Interview, Must Reads

“Stop Assuming that Everything You Feel or Think Is Right”—An Interview with Robert Greene

Robert Greene is the author of The 48 Laws of Power and most recently, The Laws of Human Nature. His books, which are popular with many world leaders, celebrities, professional athletes and hip hop stars like Drake, have sold more than 5 million copies and have been translated into over 30 languages. Robert’s raw, “amoral” look at history and the dynamics of power, seduction, and warfare have always been controversial—indeed, his books are banned in many prisons across the United States. This interview about political correctness, the bloody cost of the denial of human nature, and the inner-work required for rational thought was conducted for Quillette by Ryan Holiday, his former apprentice, over the phone from Austin, Texas while Robert recovers in Los Angeles from a near-fatal stroke he suffered in August, 2018. The text has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Ryan Holiday: I thought we’d start with this idea of human nature itself. There are certain people who have almost come to believe that there’s no such thing as human nature. Maybe it makes them uncomfortable or they don’t like the idea. Why do you think it’s something that we need to look at with open eyes?

Robert Greene: Well, because looking at reality is always better. The people who don’t believe that human nature is something real, who believe that humans are malleable and that we make our own nature, generally want to believe that we are perfectible by some kind of government or system. It has traditionally been a kind of a communist socialist revolutionary idea. And the idea is that by creating the right kind of system or government, you can alter what corrupted us (which they maintain was done by social injustice, the rise of large civilizations, and the oppression and the accumulation of capital, et cetera.) They believe that if we go back and alter this system, we can return to that kind of pure human being. This is what I wrote about the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong—Mao wanted to recreate human nature. That’s always been the belief and it’s kind of a mix of wishes that humans were really this kind of angelic creature in the beginning and that we can return to that.

And what I’m trying to say is humans can change, we can alter, we could become something superior, but only by really coming to terms with who we are and getting over this myth of the Garden of Eden—of the fallen human being who was once so angelic just 5,000 years ago or 10,000 years ago. But I think the evidence is clear looking at our chimpanzee ancestors and the record of early homo sapiens that we do have aggressive, violent impulses, that we are pretty much irrational by nature, and that the kinds of qualities that we value can only come about through personal work, through conquest, through overcoming our tendencies that are kind of animal-like. And that rather than some government that’s going to perfect us, it’s the work of individuals being conscious and aware of who they are as opposed to being in denial. There’s a quote from Angela Carter that I’ve used in several books: “We want to believe that we’re descended from angels instead of primates.”

RH: You mentioned Mao. The track record of people who have tried to either deny that human nature exists or who have tried to change it by brute force—they’ve left a lot of bodies in their wake. haven’t they?

RG: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah.

RH: So, that being said, why do people keep trying? Why is it so hard for us to accept it?

RG: Well, it’s really coming to terms with some harsh realities. We want to believe [certain things and] we have a certain opinion of ourselves that persists to this day. You see it in newspaper articles about us and about how people respond to my book, and to writers like Steven Pinker. Pinker, who’s very well respected, will accumulate a lot of research material and statistics to try to show that we are perfecting ourselves. There is some truth to this idea. He’s not linking it to a return to the Garden of Eden, he’s linking it to this sort of progression that we’re going through and we’re becoming enlightened in technology and science and rationality and getting over religion. So we can debate his research and his statistics and his studies forever, and there will always be people who support it. But the reason people keep returning to it is that it’s extremely seductive. It holds up this sort of idealized mirror of who we are as if it’s not a matter of effort, of coming to terms with our shadow, or coming to terms with our ugly aspects of our nature, but rather through a new government or technological progress and beauties of science that we’ve all just naturally become progressive.

This is a huge part of human nature. Always wanting to take the path of least resistance. We want shortcuts to believe that there’s an easy route to something that we want. Almost like you take a pill or you just sign up to take this course, or you have a communist revolution where it federates. That’s a childlike belief, and I think it’s very dangerous and it leaves the body count, as you say, very high.

RH: Where do you think this sort of denial of reality intersects with the sort of rise of political correctness? Is that the same sort of impulse?

RG: One of the best books that I think might answer your question is also one of my favorites—The Fall of Public Man by Richard Sennett. Sennett makes the argument that sometime in the nineteenth century we went astray and the belief that your identity—who you are—is intimately tied to how you are in society. In other words, prior to the nineteenth century, in French culture, you would go out in society and you assumed that you were wearing a mask and that you were playing a role and that this gave you the freedom to say things that maybe weren’t going to be taken so seriously. There was some distance between the self and your identity when you went out in public. Then, in the nineteenth century, he sees this idea arising where people identified their sense of self very narrowly with who they were in the public realm. So he sees it as the rise of narcissism.

So, if somebody says something negatively about you or makes a criticism, there’s no distance to sort of play with that and just assume that this is the rough and tumble of social life. Everything is sort of taken personally and that kind of distance that you had between who you were in society and when you returned home—that they were two different people—is kind of lost. I’m not doing his arguments justice, but I think in that kind of phenomenon you can see the rise of notions of political correctness, which is, basically, “My opinions and my ideas reflect something very intimately about who I am. And to challenge that is to challenge who I am and who I am at the core.” And that makes it very hard to accept any kind of criticism or any kind of other opinion, as opposed to the ideal of the city in the eighteenth century or even later as a melting pot of divergent opinions and ideas as a healthy thing—it became this thing that people with other ideas were sort of a danger, and they threatened my very narcissistic sense of identity.

RH: There is now also the rise of identity politics, and I’m curious what your reaction to that idea is as someone who sort of takes the bigger view of things, who studies things historically. What’s been your reaction to that?

RG: Well, I think it’s very self-defeating. Traditionally, the favorite tactic of people in power, who want to maintain power, is Divide and Conquer—to find some way to keep the public divided so that there’s never a large enough group of people to challenge them. And so, when you go into identity politics and you identify what’s right or wrong to the narrow group that you belong to—assuming that it is narrow—you’re kind of playing into the hands of those who are in power because the only way to overcome an entrenched power system is through numbers, through unity, through finding some cause or way of uniting people.

It’s been the story throughout history of any kind of successful insurgency movement. Trying to overcome an entrenched power structure—you need numbers. You need something that will rally the vast majority of people. We sort of see that a little bit now with the kind of riots that are going on in France now—what they call the yellow vest movement—where it’s got a really broad base of support. It’s kind of a very weird mix of the Right and the Left. I’m not saying that it’s a justified cause or that it’s great, just that, if you really are after power, that’s what you need to do.

But a lot of identity politics isn’t really about power, it isn’t about wanting to change the system. It’s about airing grievances, feeling wronged and wanting sympathy and to sort of play the role of the victim. Because if you really were thinking about power—if you’re really thinking about, let’s say you want to win this election, you want to get rid of Trump, identifying Trump as probably the most negative factor that any of us have seen in our lifetime in politics—the only way forward is unity—finding some way to grab the working class people, to unite the disaffected white workers in the Midwest with African-Americans in the south, or whatever, and finding what brings them together and creating a broad-based movement.

So, simply on the level of strategy and practicality, identity politics is extremely impractical. It’s narrowing your base of support to something too small to ever topple the power structure. So then to me it’s not really about practical matters. It’s about airing your grievances.

RH: Yeah, I was going to say that it sort of ties into the second law in your new book, which is that we all are obsessed with and love ourselves. That’s very natural, but you’re talking about how to transform that impulse into a more powerful impulse or an impulse that can be used more to our advantage—in other words, how do we turn narcissism into empathy?

RG: I can understand the level of oppression and the need that arose early on in the sixties for black pride, and the whole black pride movement is very understandable. But then you see people like Martin Luther King, and later even Malcolm X, deciding and coming to terms with the idea that this is sort of a dead end—that the only way we’re going to change the American system and the evil parts of it at its core is by somehow finding a way to work with white people, and working with those who are in power. So we have to find some unifying factor.

And it was the brilliance of King to branch out and use the Anti-War Movement in the sixties as a way to bridge the gap between blacks and whites. That was the proper strategy. It’s the strategy Gandhi used in his struggle against the English in the 1930s and ’40s.

So yeah, identity politics kind of sows the seeds of its own destruction. And the narcissistic element is—I try and maintain that we are all kind of self-absorbed. And we’re hungry to feel validated, and we definitely feel validated by people who are like us, who kind of mirror our values and our ideas—they kind of give us that sort of narcissistic thrill that we are okay, that there are other people like this out in the world. It is what drives people to identify with some narrow group. The narrower the better. It’s a little hard to identify with a group of 500,000—it’s kind of abstract. But if it’s a narrow group of really rabid white supremacists who believe this very narrow idea, then you really get a much bigger narcissistic thrill because the people you’re identifying with are even more similar to you.

So there’s this ugly aspect of human nature that forces us to become more and more tribal. And it’s so insanely irrational. When I was working on the book, this is what I was trying to come to terms with—we are all stemmed from the same small group of homo sapiens from Africa, some hundreds of thousands of years, millions of years ago. We are all essentially the same. We all evolved. There’s no real sense of what it means to be white. The whole notion of white as a race is completely debunked scientifically. We are a mix of so many different races, and there’s no one who’s ever a pure race. We all come from the same roots.

RH: One thing I wanted to ask you about—since we both use lots of historical examples in our books—is a response I occasionally get from readers. People will get upset that there are not enough, say, women in the books even though I actually do work very hard to find examples. It’s just that history was dominated by men for so long. But the other criticism I get is people who are upset that I will choose someone like Winston Churchill and then someone will be mad that you could have dared to talk about an imperialist or a colonizer. There’s this thing I’m noticing where people can’t even learn from history anymore because they don’t like a given person. Since you draw from so many sources, I’m curious to know what your reaction to that is.

RG: Well yeah, I had a recent example on social media that was so irritating. One of the people in the book is Coco Chanel. And I’m a great believer in trying to find as many women examples as possible. You’re writing a book on human nature—it is kind of absurd to have 90 percent of the stories about men as if that’s assuming that men and women are exactly the same. Clearly there are differences. So I believe in that aspect of finding. And so I looked into her, and I found her story extremely interesting.

Now, of course, in the thirties and forties, she flirted with Nazism, and she definitely was tainted by that. And rightly so—she had kind of weird fascistic ideas that can be traced early in her life and for various reasons. And I brought that up in the story and then I say how she kind of rehabilitated herself in the fifties with her great comeback and bringing her line of clothing back, et cetera. And I get this kind of a-hole on Facebook—who’s somebody I know and I’ve met before—and he’s clearly really bitchy and kind of upset with my book for whatever reason. And he brings out: “Well yes, but she was this Nazi, this fascist and you know, isn’t it interesting how fashion and fascism were kind of linked, et cetera.”

And this whole thing explodes, and I try to make the comment that there are plenty of other people in history we can pick apart. Pablo Picasso supported Joseph Stalin well after everybody knew what an evil dictator he was. So does that mean we can’t appreciate anything that Picasso ever did or wrote before that? The French writer, Céline, whom I really like a lot, wrote some amazing novels like Journey To The End Of The Night. And, in the forties, he also had a flirtation with Nazism. As did Ezra Pound. Ezra Pound’s poetry is fantastic. Céline’s novels are amazing.

Can you separate the flaws some people have with perhaps some political thing that came up in their life from their work or find some value or some lessons to be learned from them? Chanel is this amazing story of a woman who overcame all odds—an orphan from sheer poverty who created one of the most powerful fashion houses ever in history. Well, can’t we learn from that? Oh no, because of this taint on her, we can’t even go near her, she’s radioactive.

And when I made that point, all these incredibly snarky comments came up and these people said, “Oh, well, I guess it’s okay to support Nazism as long as you make beautiful clothes,” or whatever. All this kind of really ugly arguing, and I had to leave the discussion because when it gets to that point, it’s so irrational, there is nothing you can say or do anymore.

One of the main points of my book is to understand that we’re all flawed. We need to get over our fucking sense of moral superiority, which is probably the most aggravating quality in twenty-first century life—people’s insane sense of moral superiority as if, because of their posts on Facebook or their pathetic little blog where they support some righteous cause, they are superior to other people. It’s so much a part of modern life and it’s this need people have in times where things are a bit dark. It’s this sense of, “Oh, I’m not tainted by these times that we live in, I’m superior to it, I’m superior to other people, I’m good, I’m angelic,” et cetera.

RH: What do you think of this argument that people should really only write about things that pertain their own direct experience?

RG: You bring up the idea that in culture it’s become the fashion today that only a black person or a Hispanic person or a woman can express what it means to be that particular woman or race or whatever and that to try and say it if you’re not of that is like appropriation, and it’s not legitimate or justified.

This takes all of the steam out of literature and culture from the past because obviously so many books in the past were written by men who have some extremely strong female characters. And a lot of writers and filmmakers have looked at the predicament of others, particularly oppressed cultures or oppressed races. And so, it says, the idea is that you can’t possibly understand what it’s like.

Well, it’s true that I, Robert Greene, could never understand what it’s like to be a woman raised in this country. I will never know what it’s like to be looked at continually, or judged for my appearances, to be thought of as something somewhat inferior that can’t do the same work, on and on and on. But what is absurd about the idea is that I, Robert Greene, can’t make the effort, the empathetic effort, to actually go and really try and understand the experience of the people very different from me.

And in understanding that, I’ve enriched myself, and I can actually create something, I can even write something that’s very interesting. That from my outside perspective, I could have some interesting insights and that by taking the effort to understand the experience of other people, I’ve not only enriched myself, but my work will be that much deeper.

So, whenever I try and write a story about someone in my book—obviously they come from different cultures, different periods, different genders, different races—my whole goal is to try and feel what it’s like to have been them. I know I can’t get close enough. I know that there’s going to be some things that are somewhat inaccurate about it. But why shouldn’t that be the ideal that we have in culture? Why shouldn’t that be a good thing to actually try and understand as deeply as possible the experience of other people? And why does it have to be labeled as some sort of cultural appropriation or some form hidden oppression when in fact it has always been the ideal in culture, for instance, to sort of get inside the experience of other people? I think that’s a question worth examining.

RH: I totally agree. And it’s not as if we don’t have a term—trying on of someone else’s glasses or cultures or shoes or whatever sort of metaphor you want to use can be insensitive or poorly done. But I don’t think we need to call that “cultural appropriation,” we just need to call that “bad art.” This idea of shutting other people down or undermining their ability to speak on certain issues ties into some of the passive-aggressive arguing styles you’ve criticized.

RG: Yeah, it’s what is turning a lot of intelligent people off social media, and from ever venturing into its waters because you can’t really have a sustained rational discussion. I didn’t have time in that article, but I wanted to lay out what would be a rational form of argument—perhaps the Socratic method where you begin the discussion with the belief that you don’t know the truth; you have some ideas, some opinions, but probably you’re wrong, and you could be ignorant. And by questioning people, you can find out their ideas and maybe poke holes in what they believe in and, through a dialectic method of arguing back and forth, going through the contradiction, you can reach reality or truth.

Now, it’s very simplified and obviously it has some limitations, but it’s a form of argument that begins with the idea that you’re ignorant, that you’re trying to arrive at truth or reality, and that you have to go through a process of listening to other ideas, arguing, finding the holes in it, and eventually getting closer to this as an ideal. But tell me how many times you’ve ever encountered that form of discussion, let alone on social media, but in real life.

People begin with their sense that they know the answers, they know the truth, they know what the situation is. And so they’re looking for other people who merely echo what they already believe and anybody who challenges it is evil, or wrong, or has some sort of great moral flaw. The passive aggressive arguing idea is that you don’t want to appear in life to be too aggressive and too violent and direct with people, so that’s where passive aggression starts from because I maintain that humans are aggressive and if they can’t get what they want through their aggressive impulses, they often turn passive aggressive.

Even on social media, you find all these kind of irritating forms of argument that are not direct. They don’t challenge, they don’t deal with the actual issue at hand, but always with peripheral issues. They are always distracting. They’re using straw man arguments. They take what you say and they extend it to certain levels. They take it out of context where they associate you with somebody perhaps evil like the Coco Chanel thing. As if you’re arguing this, and you drop a name and that name is associated with something bad, meaning your idea is bad, which is obviously a logical absurdity. The idea could be good even though it comes from somebody who may have some flaws in their character. So technology, contrary to what Steven Pinker advocates, has not made us more enlightened. In fact, it’s bringing out some of our most unenlightened traits.

RH: We’re up against these forces: denial of human nature, the realities of human nature, political correctness, the tools of the internet. What’s your advice to someone who’s trying to make their way in this world and is trying to resist being pulled down by those forces?

RG: Well, you have to kind of look inward instead of look outward, and it’s a culture that doesn’t promote that. You know, it’s a culture that promotes always looking for answers outside yourself, through some self-help guru, through something on YouTube, through joining a cause. These are all ways of avoiding the issue.

The issue is to turn inward and look at yourself and come to terms with who you are. You come to terms with your past and your own flaws and to sort of see yourself, finally, start to begin to see who you are. You’re never going to see completely who you are, you’re always going to remain a mystery.

We’re very complicated. We don’t know where ideas come from. We don’t know where our emotions come from. But you can get closer to that. You can have some degree of clarity. You can start to see that kind of shadow side that I talk about in the book, or that stranger within that I mention. And that’s really the only hope because when you’re in denial, you don’t realize that you’re being a narcissist, you don’t realize that you’re being governed by your emotions. You could think you’re superior to other people just because of the opinion you hold. You can let your shadow side come out without even being aware of it.

You need to come to terms with the fact that 95 percent of your ideas and opinions are not your own—they come what other people have taught you, from what you’re reading on the internet, from what other people are saying and doing. You’re a conformist—that’s who you are. I’m like that and everybody is like that and you realize that only by throwing some light on yourself and realizing that these qualities, these flaws that are built into us, they are inside you too. Only then can you begin to overcome them and use them for productive purposes.

Question, question, question. Don’t assume that the reason that you feel something, and that it’s right just because you feel it. And in that kind of process, you will become rational, you’ll become somebody who can use empathy, you will have the ability to judge people properly and accept them for who they are as opposed to continually moralizing, wishing people were something that they’re not.

You’ll have a much smoother path through life, and you’ll be much calmer and more peaceful without all that emotional baggage that drags you down. But it starts with looking inward and questioning yourself and not assuming that everything you feel or think is right.


Ryan Holiday is the author of several books including Trust Me I’m Lying, The Obstacle is the Way and Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker and the Anatomy of Intrigue. You can follow him on Twitter @RyanHoliday


  1. Chris says

    Another interesting article, learning a great deal here at Quillette.

  2. E. Olson says

    Good interview – thank you. The point about how so much debate and learning is shut down because someone or something from the past turned out to be associated with something or someone bad or evil is extremely important. Stopping any discussion, praise, or remembrance of slave owners when slavery was a legally and economically accepted concept, or people who associated with Nazis or Communists before the true evil of the regimes was widely known (or covered up by the NY Times in the case of the USSR), or because they failed to be a critic when living under totalitarian power meant concentration camp or death, is truly small minded. No hero or role model from the past is going to remain unblemished if they can only be judged from the perspective of today’s freedoms, wealth, value systems, and the 20/20 hindsight of what subsequently occurred. This is also why so many good citizens are upset when statues are torn down, buildings are renamed, great literature is removed from reading lists, and history is otherwise erased because they are remembrances or products of people from another time who today are judged to be flawed by people who most commonly have either zero or highly flawed knowledge about history or human nature.

    • tarstarkas says

      Reductio absurdum definition of that argument is since the evil leader of the NSDAP was human and you are human, you are likewise evil, meaning that anything you have to say on any subject is irredeemably tainted by evil.

      • Stephen J. says

        There are still days I find myself thinking exactly that of myself, actually. But self-pity isn’t any more helpful to thriving than self-worship, which is why the whole point of acknowledging flaws is to learn how to see past and work around them.

    • Raymond Wickham says

      C.S. Lewis used the term “chronological snobbery.”

  3. Prognoztic says

    It has always amazed me how i’ve had so many conversations with incredibly intelligent thoughtful people. Who still think everything they think at feel is right.

    • Robert Franklin says

      On the other hand, I’m a reasonably intelligent and thoughtful person and I’m not about to abandon my ideas, that I’ve rather painstakingly come to embrace, without a lot of facts and well-made argument. I’m open to alternative viewpoints, but I’m not going to jettison my own thinking without extremely persuasive arguments to get me to do so. Few people think as critically about my ideas as I do.

  4. Lightning Rose says

    The solution to a lot of the problems cited is REALLY simple–we just need to stop listening, responding, feeling the need to fight with ASSHOLES–especially on social media. Imagine if people from the lunatic fringe or the just plain ignorant or provocative got IGNORED instead of having everything they blurt amplified endlessly by the perceived need to “set them straight.”

    Someone’s wrong on the Internet. So what? Who cares? Most of the garbage would have a half-life of three minutes if everyone else just left it lying there.

    Great article!

    • dellingdog says

      I completely agree. Thanks, LR: you’ve convinced me to ignore you!

      • Indeed, if you just ignore others, you fall into the trap that they are the idiots, the assholes, the lunatic fringe….but you are wise and good. That said, it doesn’t pay to engage on platforms where thoughtful exchanges are unlikely to occur.

    • Artie11 says

      Sometimes I talk because I feel like the person might need help inside. When someone appears to be unreachable to me, I move on without responding. I believe we are here to share God’s love. Mostly, if I cannot do that, I leave people alone (not always, though).

  5. codadmin says

    The closest ancestor to modern human is the chimpanzee. Chimpanzees have pale skin under the fur. It makes sense that early humans had pale skin and dark skin adapted to intense heat after the fur was shed. Humans evolved in the middle of the ice age, after all.

    Dark skin was an adaption to the intense after the ice age.

    In light of those facts, will the interviewee now say the black race does not exist?… thought not.

    • Biological differences doesn’t mean the concept of “race” is valid. That black people have black skin is obvious; but black skin isn’t limited to Africans. Hair color, skin color, eye color, height, weight, shape of eyes/noses/lips, varying levels of intelligence/happiness/kindness, are all things we can note, and some are associated with the social construction of race, but in the end, race is mostly used to oppress others rather than relying on genetics (for medical issues) or skills/capabilities (for most other issues).

      • Ray Andrews says

        @david of Kirkland

        Biological differences that tend to cluster strongly is exactly what race is, and saying that it is invalid is like saying that a dog owner is communicating nothing when she says that her dog is a poodle. That race is mostly used to oppress does not make it go away. Religious difference has likewise been used to oppress but that does not mean that Islam and Hinduism are really just the same.

      • Martin28 says

        @ David
        Biological differences don’t mean that race is invalid either. Just because there is a spectrum of colors, and you can mix colors, doesn’t mean there is no such thing as “blue.” I understand the idea that race doesn’t exist as a scientific concept, as Greene states, but this is tainted by political correctness, and there is also a strong case that race does exist. The same people who say race does not exist will submit their DNA for testing and then state they are 97 percent of French/German ancestry, or whatever, as if ethnic ancestry is a valid concept but race is not. That’s like saying that indigo is real but blue is not.

  6. Heike says

    I’ve had the “we are primates” arguments with Leftists before, and generally when I corner them with evidence, they handwave it away with something like “that’s not a world I want to live in.”

    • We did create society, including customs and laws and culture, mostly to rise above our nature. We can see that nature cares not about living individuals or groups, or about the land, air, water or universe.
      But we humans have correctly realized that by rising above our natural, most base instincts, we can all prosper better than if left in the wild.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      Instead of “leftists” I think you meant “most republicans.”

      • NK, there is a growing anti-science mindset growing on the left. Ironically, Republicans find current science affirms at least some of what they wish to believe, and undermines the left’s preconceptions So, no, Heike means “Leftists.” Sorry, but I have the same experience. My leftist friends are shockingly rigid and in denial when confronted with non-conforming data. Jon Haidt, PhD likes to say when facts collide with beliefs, the facts get thrown under the bus. Right or left, we find changing presuppositions very painful. You are the same; so am I.

  7. Farris says

    Some of the greatest ideas and ideals of the past are disregarded because: the originator is white, male, a member of a certain party, or from a particular region or distorting the concept beyond logic (resisting a budget expenditure is tantamount to racism or sexism or only Nazis would disagree). Such responses are indicative of being unable to debate the idea or in other words a form of guerrilla debating.

    There exists a persisting view that past generations are composed primarily of ignorant brutes. Beware this mode of thinking or be prepared to be the future ignorant brutes. Even the past generations (the so called ignorant brutes) viewed themselves as possessing new revolutionary ideas, superior to their ancestors.

    Two questions people should ask themselves: 1. Name something you are wrong about? (There should be no answer because if a rational person knew he or she was wrong about something he or she would change that opinion.) 2. If you are unable to designate something you’re wrong about, does that mean you’re right about everything?
    Do not be afraid to question your beliefs. Questioning beliefs is how we learn and progress. Changing a belief in the face of contradictory evidence, does not change who you are but rather demonstrates an open mind.
    Most posts on Quillette, even the ones with which you most vehemently disagree, contain a grain of truth. Ruminate on the wheat not the chaff.

    • Martin28 says

      @ Farris
      Right and wrong not an either/or proposition. Ask whether there are some things that you are less certain of. I believe in anthropomorphic global warming, evolution, and gravity. I am most certain about gravity, certain about evolution (although I recognize that certain aspects of this theory may be wrong and will be adjusted over time), and much less certain about predictions of global warming.

      • Jan de Jong says

        Anthropogenic – not so much, anthropomorphic – not at all?

        • Ha ha ha. Anthropomorphic means the climate take the form of some gigantic human being. It might be cool, but scary, and we’d need Superman plus Batman to deal with it. Good comment, Jan de Jong.

  8. True in depth thought and scholarly levels of interaction, after Ryan’s thoughtful interview with Robert Greene, awesome!

  9. Marek says

    Thank you for this enlightening discussion. The point about how we’ve lost distance between our flexible public persona and our actual private identity is hugely important. I’ve heard it said
    by Sam Vaknin ( that social media has robbed a generation or two of the personal space and wisdom necessary to develop our own private self and identity that is quite distinct from the public sphere and constant validation of strangers. And these individuals are held to this narcissistic addiction by the fact that they know no other way to be.

    As more intelligent, self-aware, or just plain lucky people are abandoning social media, it seems
    quite likely that the population will split into two groups – those who are stuck existing in this hyper-emotional, judgmental, vulnerable, identity-obsessed, online way of being, and those who have a grounding in the real world where nuance, subtlety, and human nature exist.

  10. Laura Thuijls says

    He says we need to move on from this garden of eden notion where humans were once perfect. And yet, mao (who he cited) never held such beliefs. Indeed, some of the most vile people who believed in using government to completely change humans were atheist (pol pot, Stalin). I wonder where they got the belief that humans were once perfect and can become perfect again. Secondly, Christian theology does not hold the belief that people can be perfected in life. In death yes, but not in life. So I’m not quite sure where the connection is between Christian theology and the blank state beliefs that are now so pervasive. Maybe someone could help me out here…

    • Farris says

      Sorry to say I can not help but I do agree. The point of the Garden of Eden story is that mankind is fallen, not perfect. There is a tendency by some to comment on the Bible without having read or studied it.

      • Fickle Pickle says

        What if the fundamental communication of the Garden of Eden story is that everything, including every dimension of the human body-mind-complex arises in a Garden of Indestructible Light. And that the fundamental calling and purpose of human life is to fully incarnate and live AS that – which is (perhaps) what Jesus did while he was alive.

        Furthermore human life does not become perfected when one dies – such is an absurd proposition.
        Everyone gets reborn again and again in this realm/world for as many aeons of time as it takes to Wake Up to their Real Condition.
        Of course very few people in the history of humankind have ever accomplished such a transformation. The only exceptions who accomplished that transformation at least to some degree were the various Saints, Mystics, Yogis and Sages. Such rare beings were/are the founders of all of the practicing schools of Esoteric Spiritual Religion.

        The West does not have a living Esoteric Spiritual Tradition.

        Indeed our benighted culture does not even consider such Waking Up to be even possible. Such is the fundamental taboo at the root of Western culture.
        Alan Watts wrote a beautiful book on this titled The Taboo On Knowing Who You Are

        None of the usual academic and philosophical chit-chat about what we are as human beings
        even begins to take into account the entire spectrum of the human body-mind-complex.
        Beginning with his first books The Spectrum of Consciousness, Up From Eden and The Atman Project Ken Wilber provides a remarkable map of human possibility, and our individual and collective failure to fully incarnate that latent potential.

      • Cornfed says

        Yes, but he was not referring to the biblical story, per se. He was alluding to what is sometimes called romantic primitivism, the belief that mankind used to be in some blissful, innocent state, and that we can find that existence once again, if only we could discover the right formula. That idea is foundational to the secularist/leftist point of view. By contrast, the traditional Christian view is that humanity is irredeemably fallen, therefore in néed of atonement. Whatever else you think of the christian religion, at least it got that much right. And it is (one reason) why left/right politics breaks largely along secular/religious lines. To say that the belief in human perfectability is naive is putting it mildly, and is at the root of many cliches, such as the well worn “Liberals see the world as they wish it were, conservatives see it as it is.”

    • Doug Deeper says

      Karl Marx was influenced by the first, so-called anthropologist in the mid 19thC, Lewis Henry Morgan, who believed humans were noble savages. Thus Stalin, Pol Pot took their cue from Marx. The idea of the noble savage somewhat parallels the “blank slate” view of humans.
      Regarding your second question, I suspect many mainstream Christians are no longer believers in Christian theology, just as many Jews are not Jews of the Torah, but of secular liberalism.

    • Laura, that threw me off too. For me the garden of Eden story is superb. It represents the dawn of knowledge, of consciousness and conscience. Of course we were violent before, but we were not capable of questioning our behavior. Now, we never stop.

    • C. Leslie says

      I agree, Laura, that the Garden of Eden reference is not quite right here. Plato’s ‘idealism’ would be closer to the mark, as discussed by Karl Popper in ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’.

  11. Martin28 says

    “We need to get over our fucking sense of moral superiority, which is probably the most aggravating quality in twenty-first century life—people’s insane sense of moral superiority as if, because of their posts on Facebook or their pathetic little blog where they support some righteous cause, they are superior to other people.”

    Great point. Moral superiority is mostly a vice, not a virtue. People with moral superiority have it for selfish reasons. This used to be widely understood and people who flaunted their moral superiority were laughed at, told to fuck off, or at least treated with great skepticism. Too many people today don’t question the virtue of those with moral superiority.

  12. Farris says

    “Stop Assuming that Everything You Feel or Think Is Right”—RG

    “he’s linking it to this sort of progression that we’re going through and we’re becoming enlightened in technology and science and rationality and getting over religion. “

    I wonder if Mr. Green is willing to entertain the idea that he may be wrong?
    Perhaps we are not getting over religion as much as substituting one religion for another.
    At times this interview comes off as though Mr. Green’s advice is for other people.

    • Martin28 says

      @ Farris (and I think Wingo)
      Yes, I think he is willing to entertain the idea that he may be wrong about a lot of things. That aspirational ideal can be held while at the same time believing that you are right about most things. The scientific method is based on this ideal. Scientists can both passionately believe in the scientific method, which holds the possibility that any theory may be proven wrong, while at the same time believing passionately in any one particularly theory—especially if it has been verified time and time again. Postmodernism, and the various theories attached to it, undermine this ideal and hold that nobody can get outside of their own power hierarchy and all is a power game. Postmodernism is wrong, and it leads to societal madness, as we have seen. So my question to you is do you believe in the scientific method? Do you believe in objectivity at all?

      • Farris says


        Yes, I most certainly believe in the scientific method as you define it. However I have noticed a tendency to put forth supposedly scientific hypotheses which are not falsifiable. In other words every occurrence proves the hypothesis and the proponent rejects any contradictory evidence as tainted. Most scientific theories fall into one of three categories: proven or rationally undeniable, probable but not certain and plausible. The most frequent issues that arise are when proponents of the latter two insist upon classification into the former.

        I wholeheartedly endorse objectivity. This is why I do not endorse the proposition that religion and science are mutually exclusive. Thank you for you inquiries.

        • Martin28 says

          Thanks for your reasonable reply, Farris. The unfalsifiable theory is a good thing to keep in mind and I agree with you on religion and science.

        • @Farris
          Well said.

          Completely agree with “Most scientific theories fall into one of three categories: proven or rationally undeniable, probable but not certain and plausible. The most frequent issues that arise are when proponents of the latter two insist upon classification into the former.”

          I like watching theoretical scientists split-balling their theories on the nature of the cosmos and consciousness and free will and such. You have to apply your quote to everything that comes out of their mouths… They don’t know as much as they pretend to.

    • X. Citoyen says


      Ever notice it’s always “we” who are getting enlightened in science and technology? This is one of the most powerful and least appreciated marketing points in the enlightenment-for-dummies narrative. One man creates a better mousetrap, and every human being—no matter how ignorant or backward—gets to share in the glory through the magical “we,” as if all human beings belonged to some sort of mind-and-body hive.

  13. Keith says

    Listening and learning. Looking inward. Great interview. Thank-you.

  14. Nearly Normal Frederick says

    What if our entire modern philosophical tradition and therefore by extension most of our culture is based on a false or secondary principle?
    Such is the argument put forward in the book by Iain McGilchrist in his meticulously researched book The Master and His Emissary – The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.
    A book which took him 14 years to write.
    That secondary principle is also the platform or asana upon which all attempts to “look inward” are based – narcissus looking at the pond.

  15. I am 100% in concert with the idea that one of the biggest flaws of activist government is this idea that human nature is malleable and reformable by the state. Then you go down toward the end of the interview and make the statement that 95% of our ideas are not our own but external, thus eviscerating your own premise.

    People are convinced to act only when it is clearly in their own self interest, and that is an individual premise. That is the brilliance of the Anglo-Saxon-American system when it was fully operable in that our constitutional premise is that we are sovereign individuals who have ceded some of our sovereignty to government in order to protect our liberty and secure our rights. In political science classes this is mostly dismissed these days but it stands behind our government as well as the capitalistic system.

    The concept of the individual as sovereign, not a group, bows to human nature while at the same time allows individuals to form groups, and then leave groups and form new ones when the old no longer serves the self interest of individuals involved.

    Today we have this enhanced tribalism as it is a way to serve the emotional mind, not the rational one. We do have the animalistic nature that is inherently tribal and emotional and it is through appealing to the rational mind, as this is the core of western enlightenment that helped create a civilization of a type not seen in all the age of mankind. I would note that the enlightenment began in the church, with the premise that there is a direct connection between God and the individual, not between God and the organized church.

    It is interesting your appeal to dismiss the myth of the Garden of Eden and yet you miss the message of it. The central message of the fall in the Garden of Eden is that through the failure of one man, all men are fallen. There is nothing in the story of the Garden of Eden that points to an angelic nature for Adam. Indeed the book makes it clear that God did not reach down to help fallen angels, but did reach down to help fallen man.

    The utterly brilliant proposition of the core of Christianity is that through one man’s blood sacrifice, willing, of himself, the son of God, that freed mankind from the fall. Not because we are perfect, but because the one that was had the blood price to redeem all of mankind in his essential nature of the Godhead.

    It is also in the New Testament where the equality of all before God was first established and that there is no respecting of persons. This is embedded in the Declaration of independence in the following words..

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    This is a startling statement, still not fully realized in practice, but it is still the most profound recognition that our rights are not just fungible items, to be tossed to and fro by the winds of political change. Today most scholars say that the principle of “natural rights” has been debunked, but in looking around, their substitutes are inferior products that have brought us to this state of tribalism that abounds today.

    The narcissism that you refer to is that nature in humankind to make him or herself god, not governed by any law but their own feelings and propositions. Looking in history the record is clear that despotic leaders by an large arrogated to themselves the claim of godhood.

    I will still read your book, but I think you make other errors just as egregious as the ones you ascribe to government.

    • Sean Gerard says

      Yes I found his remarks rather trite. You’ve made a much better job of it. An additional point worth making here re the contractual classical liberal model of government, where the individual cedes sovereignty in return for protection of the state, is the Burkean qualification. Burke argued that the possibility of any kind of contractual arrangement already presupposes a pre-political loyalty. Hence his reformed explanation of society as a partnership between the generations: the dead. the living and the unborn.

    • D.W. Brown says

      Excellent points. I hold to this faith in the genius of our founding fathers: that the US has elected a crude jackass destined for humiliation, rather than an evil genius (i.e. Hitler, Mao, Putin), as a way of “anealing” the poison out of the system created by our radical social change.

    • codadmin says

      “The utterly brilliant proposition of the core of Christianity is that through one man’s blood sacrifice, willing, of himself, the son of God, that freed mankind from the fall. Not because we are perfect, but because the one that was had the blood price to redeem all of mankind in his essential nature of the Godhead.”

      Could you rephrase this sentence?

      • Skydancer says

        That paragraph is cultic psycho-babble all the way down. It does not refer to anything that is any sense real or that actually happened.

  16. R Henry says

    Ironic when a published writer opines negatively about others who claim to be right….or narcissistic. Is not the act of publically sharing (publishing) such musings the purest illustration of those qualities?

    • Martin28 says

      @ R Henry
      An openness to the idea that you may be wrong, a willingness to change your point of view with new evidence, and a tolerance of different points of view are aspirational ideals that can be sought throughout a lifetime, even if you are absolutely certain that some things are right. That’s kinda like the aspirational ideal of objectivity in journalism that was held by the entire profession for a long time and made journalism far more trustworthy. All of these ideals have been thrown out with postmodernism, creating the current power game where little of our discourse or journalism can be trusted and nobody has an incentive to be open and fair. The postmodern answer to this, which you seem to hold, is that even criticism of this trend cannot be trusted. Bullshit. Bullshit!!!

      • R Henry says


        Thank you for making the effort to reflect and post.

        Perhaps you do not see irony where I do. Perfectly fine.

        Indeed, our contemporary post-Modernism rejects objective reality There is no clearer example than the ever-so-trendy obsession with transgenderism/transexualism. That our vaunted Western medical and scientific establishments have decided to support the pleadings of the delusional and deviant, in the name of “equality” and “Civil Rights” is beyond rationality. In a world where Bruce Jenner is a woman, there is no reason, no fact.

        As for Robert Greene, as described herein, I see no unique contribution.

        • Fickle Pickle says

          Is there really such a thing as objective reality?
          It is more or less common knowledge at the present time, that you are not merely seeing what is external in any given room or in the cosmos altogether.
          Your seeing is, in fact, an electronic apparition, developed in the nervous system of the brain and projected “out there”. You have no direct connection to the gross object, or objects, that you are seeming to view at the present time. In other words you are having a psychic vision. You are not merely seeing a gross environment, but you are having a brain and nervous system created vision of a gross environment.

          Likewise, your sense of being physically embodied is communicated to you through the subtle electronics of the nervous system. You are experiencing an apparition, a subtle electronic sense of being identified with a gross physical body.
          The position in which you are experiencing perceptions is an extremely subtle position. You seem to be possessed of very gross tangible objects of attention, but none of the objects with which you are associated are actually gross and tangible to you. They are all subtle electronic apparitions.

          When people dogmatically insist on the primacy of objective reality they are in effect denying and thus suppressing all of the open-ended subtle dimensions of our existence-being.
          We are also defined and controlled by what is seemingly objective to us. And the very moment that anyone or anything is presumed to be objective to you it becomes an enemy or a threat to you. You then seek to control that objective whatever, even to the degree of attempting to eventually destroy that objective whatever.

          Such is the cause or the origin of the power-and-control motive/momentum at the root of the Western project altogether, which is quite literally a “culture” of death.

    • curiositas says

      One can find it probable that one is right on a given topic (enough so that it is worthwhile to share one’s thoughts), while simultaneously believing it *improbable* that one is right about everything. Demonstrating intellectual humility is not the same thing as simply never having thoughts or opinions, nor is it the same as believing oneself to *never* be right. It just means that one tries to understand the likelihood of flaws in one’s own thinking and the limits of one’s own knowledge, and then one tries to incorporate that into one’s thinking/argumentation and, accordingly, the way one interacts with and understands the world.

      That said, I’m not arguing one way or another with regards to the level of intellectual humility the author does or does not demonstrate here. I’m just arguing that intellectual humility does not require one to never have or voice opinions.

    • curiositas says

      In my experience, boring people get bored easily, since their own minds are boring places to be. They also, apparently, like to comment about how boring they find things, rather than simply ignoring what bores them and moving on to something more suited to their entertainment.

  17. In regards to identity politics and intersectionality and appropriation, it amuses me that people suggest members of those labeled groups are somehow all the same.
    I am white. Does this mean I have a right to speak for all white people because I understand all who are currently considered white?
    I am male. Does this mean I have a right to speak for all men because I understand all who are currently considered male?
    I am in my 50s. Does this mean I have a right to speak for all in their 50s because I understand all who are similarly aged?
    I am American. I am under 6 feet tall. I am overweight. I went to college. I live in Kirkland. I am a homeowner. I ride a bike. I write software for a living. I’m married. I have a child. Does this mean I have a right to speak for all Americans, all sub-6 foot people, all overweight people, all college educated people, all Kirklanders, all homeowners, all bikers, all programmers, all married people, all fathers? But I don’t have a right to think about those who are not white, not male, not my age, not American, not college graduates, not married, etc.?

    • Martin28 says

      David, I am many of these things that you mention. You certainly have no right to speak for me, even though I agree with you here.

    • R Henry says

      And thus the farce of Identity Politics is illustrated.

      Among the many examples of this is Feminism. For generations now, Western Culture has been abuzz with the idea the if only more women were appointed/elected to positions of power, our society would benefit from their warmer, more sensitive and caring (Better!!!) approach to leadership.

      What has all this buzz netted? Hillary Clinton. among our USA’s most corrupt and conniving candidates for President. Angela Merkel, a women who seeks to dilute the European population with Eastern interlopers with no intention to assimilate. Elizabeth Warren, a US Senator who achieved her position by leveraging fabricated minority ancestry, and Lois Lerner, the woman who used the American tax collection agency to shut down political opposition.

      Among these female leaders, I see exactly ZERO unique feminine perspective. I see only bare-knuckle politics as usual. The promise of females in leadership has proven to be a lie.

      • curiositas says

        Or, perhaps, you’re confirming your own bias about women in leadership positions, by citing only those you strongly dislike. I would hazard a guess, based on the examples you gave, that you are conservative, yes? If so, surely there are conservative women who meet your standards — Nikki Haley, perhaps? To be clear, it is not my opinion that it’s superior to have female leaders, but it is also not my opinion that it is inferior. Personally, I judge a leader by their individual conduct, as I do anyone else. I would posit that if women just categorically do not meet your standards for leadership, you may have a problem with your standards.

  18. Charlie says

    Greene says less than the many Greek writers, The Bible, Ibn Khaldun and Machiavelli, A Toynbee, C Parkinson, Lao Zhu, The Buddha who all discuss human nature and power. Plutarch’s books on Greeks and Romans discusses human nature.

    The Left has been removing the Classics and The Bible from education since the Frankfurt School became influential post WW1 because they highlight human nature and the need for self denial and self control against base desires and cowardice. As Zeus says ” Humans will need gods as long as they are cowardly, lazy and venal “. Political correctness and the effete impractical middle class Left are largely people who are lazy, cowardly and venal who lack the honesty, courage and industriousness to flourish in a society which acknowledges heroic sturdy rugged individualism on which The West is based. The first hero of The West, Odysseus survives because he conquers human vice and demonstrates virtue- skill, courage , industriousness, sagacity, respect for the gods, and loyalty to his wife. The Left can only win if people forget about the virtues which made Western Civilisation possible, those of Odysseus and his wife Penelope.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      This place is my absolute favorite source of irony, and it never disappoints. In an article about mistaking our personal feelings and our own self-interested perspective for reality, you pull out this magnificent pile of bullshit to serve as the perfect example of somebody totally incapable of seeing anything but what you want to see and defending it with the verve of a raving evangelical.

      Nice work.

      • Charlie says

        Ryan Holiday: I thought we’d start with this idea of human nature itself.
        Robert Greene: Well, because looking at reality is always better. The people who don’t believe that human nature is something real, who believe that humans are malleable and that we make our own nature, generally want to believe that we are perfectible by some kind of government or system

        The Greeks were the first people to try and define human nature and determine what reality means. Buddhism is fundamentally about living in the present and not dreaming. The writers I mentioned were fundamentally about defining the reality of human affairs not creating a fantasy. Khaldun, Toynbee and Parkinson have all written on the cause for the rise and fall of civilisations which are based upon human nature. Daoism examines what factors support longevity and the fleeting nature of power.

  19. Hmmm says

    I’m a fan of what the early-/mid-20th-century American judge Learned Hand had to say about the importance of an open mind. One famous and succinct formulation: “The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.” (And, as he said in the same speech: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”)

  20. 1L19 says

    I enjoyed the interview very much and it gave me a lot to think about. Something on my mind, though, is what I call the “if everyone would just…” syndrome. Perhaps in the book there is some content regarding what actions can be taken to improve the situation because I honestly don’t see the whole tribalism thing getting better anytime soon since it’s a self-validating system.

    As far as the earlier content about not having a public and private “person” or whatever. I am definitely someone who can take it personally vs considering criticism but the idea of ‘wearing a mask’ in public is completely off putting. It’s hard enough to maintain my true persona without investing energy in a fake one to use while I’m out in public. I can appreciate the logical argument to do so but it is not an option that can be applied practically… in my case anyway.

    Thank you!

  21. augustine says

    A thought-provoking article that was unfortunately marred by Mr. Greene’s universal virtue-signaling against the idea of race and its conventional meaning. It begs the question, Who exactly is in a position to authoritatively announce that race does not exist, and what is the motivation? To paraphrase, I sense a dismissive moral superiority from Greene in these lines:

    “There’s no real sense of what it means to be white.”
    For who, under what conditions? Does this apply equally to Arabs or Polynesians?

    “The whole notion of white as a race is completely debunked scientifically.”
    Who says race should or needs to be a scientific concept?

    “We are a mix of so many different races, and there’s no one who’s ever a pure race. We all come from the same roots.”
    Of course we come from the same roots, and there are no pure races. Agree on both, but should that truth flatten other truths that are clearly evident? Truths that have meaning to people of all colors on some level?

    The idea of race in our species is a somewhat arbitrary construct and as such it does not need to meet requirements of scientific efficacy or purity. The distinctions remain useful, in as much as different parties agree to the general concept, just as fruits and vegetables are arbitrarily and usefully distinguished. The problems come in taking these things too seriously, which seems unavoidable.

    • D.B. Cooper says


      I feel compelled to begin this brief polemic with an apology for wasting your time on an argument as tiresome as whether ‘race’ is a scientifically valid concept or not. In point of fact, it is, but we need not split incalculable philosophical hairs over the connotations of a word like ‘race’, since the probability of changing someone’s opinion(s) on matters of ‘race’ – never mind within a comment section – is likely to rival any numerical value found among the fundamental physical constants, e.g., Planck constant, Newtonian constant, etc. In other words, not likely.

      Given the Sisyphean task of constructing an argument persuasive enough to evoke even the slightest consideration of errancy in one’s own argument, I figured it might instead be easier to simply disabuse Mr. Greene of the paralogism he seems suspiciously eager to tolerate in the passage you quoted.

      Greene claims (correctly, it should be noted for anyone who missed the finer points of 9th grade biology) that we all – by which he means the human race – stemmed from the “same small group of homo sapiens from Africa,” and while his claim is ostensibly true, it does not follow that simply because every human (past-present-future) can/could theoretically trace their lineage back to the same small group in Africa that we are ipso facto “all essentially the same.

      Putting aside Greene’s sudden love affair with qualifiers (ex: essentially, real sense, whole notion, pure race, etc.), the problem with this reasoning is that there was never a definitive point in our taxonomy when we suddenly stopped being an archaic human (ex: homo erectus) and instantaneously began being homo sapiens… ever more… ever more. Our speciation didn’t spontaneously emerge out of early archaic human varieties. No one fell out of their H. erectus mother (forgive the crude analogy) as a H. sapien. That is, human evolution did not occur discreetly, but rather gradually through a slow – somewhat continuous depending on your level of analysis – process.

      To see why this is important, consider that Greene’s entire “we are all essentially the same” argument is based on the premise that we all emerged (common descent) from the same group of H. sapiens in Africa, but by that reasoning it is no less true to say that we ALSO all emerge from the same single cell organism in some backwoods swamp (how absurd, right?) millions of years ago; and therefore, one could just as easily claim that we (mankind) and every other organism ‘EVER’ are all essentially the same. In truth, the argument is just as valid – at least by Greene’s reasoning – but I doubt many people, Greene included, would be willing (save Greenpeace & PETA members) to defend much less claim something so absurd.

      Clever readers may notice this argument is based on the same reasoning as does the argument against the existence of ‘races’, i.e., lack of clearly defined (discrete) populations. Evolution it seems, is not without a sense of irony. At any rate, by taking this ‘long-view’, for lack of a better word, one can easily see that Greene’s decision to use H. sapiens is no less arbitrary, nor any more true than if he had used some earlier proto-human; or even our original ancestors (universal common ancestor) back in the swamp. I might argue our forefathers in the swamp has more of a claim than H. sapiens.

      In summary, it appears Greene’s argument is caught on the horns of a dilemma. If Greene insists that we (all races) are all essentially the same due to our common descent from H. sapiens, then he would need to explain – in the absence of special pleading, of course – why we (all races = mankind) are not also all the essentially the same as say mosquitos or maybe oak trees if you really want to have fun. If, on the other hand, he insists we are not the essentially the same as mosquitos and oak trees, then he will need to explain on what basis or by what criteria he is making this decision and why or what prevents one from applying similar reasoning to ‘races’. Of course, this ultimately comes down to a matter of degrees of difference/variation as it pertains to the taxonomy of species/subspecies; which, admittedly, is subjective by its very nature.

      I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this one last thing. I found it curious that Greene chose ‘whites’ rather than say, I don’t know ‘blacks’ when he virtue signaled claimed “There’s no real sense of what it means to be white. The whole notion of white as a race is completely debunked scientifically.” I mean, he is the one who made it a point to say we all came from Africa, so it just seemed strange that he would chose some nonexistent race (whites) that didn’t come came MANY, MANY years after the original nonexistent race (blacks); which, again, we all are anyway – but only in the imaginary sense, because it’s been scientifically debunked. Enter David Reich, professor of genetics at Harvard:

      It is true that race is a social construct.

      But as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among “races.”

      With the help of these tools [DNA sequencing technology], we are learning that while race may be a social construct, differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real.

      And since all traits influenced by genetics are expected to differ across populations (because the frequencies of genetic variations are rarely exactly the same across populations), the genetic influences on behavior and cognition will differ across populations, too.

      You will sometimes hear that any biological differences among populations are likely to be small, because humans have diverged too recently from common ancestors for substantial differences to have arisen under the pressure of natural selection. This is not true.

      • augustine says

        Thanks for your thoughts, D.B. Cooper. It is interesting that you explore the idea that taxonomic conceptualization can be “infinitely regressive” so as to include the descendants of whichever putative ancestor one chooses. When it comes to decisions as to where to draw lines between species/genera/families, taxonomy is indeed subjective as you say. (Most taxonomists are not keen to admit this).

        I know a PhD psychologist-preacher (think about that) who told me he believes race is not real. I asked him if he had any black friends or colleagues who were in agreement with him and he said yes, a few. I said that if there are no races then obviously racism does not exist. We spoke of the term “African-American” and according to him this has only a cultural meaning. Which means, according to him, that a white man from South Africa is an African-American. In one example I found an intersection of postmodernism and liberation theology. We never did get far in good faith conversation.

        The point of discerning races in humans is to distinguish them, very imperfectly, as belonging to subgroups that have geographic and morphological (and cultural, linguistic, etc.) traits that are generally difficult not to observe. To consider this racial dimension is to consider only one small aspect of our species in toto. It should go without saying that the overwhelming majority of considerations we can have about our species, about each other, transcends race altogether. We can, and do, throw race out the window where it is irrelevant. Is it always irrelevant? I don’t think so and I would not presume to speak for others anywhere in the world.

      • augustine says

        Mr. Greene’s position is basically that of a modern liberal. By his reasoning on race, one can argue that nations should not exist either. Only the individual and the universal are real. There is a lot of writing that deconstructs this extreme viewpoint. A more cynical take that it is easier to control populations when they consist of atomized individuals having no allegiance to groups that might compete for power (but there is an overarching centralized power, naturally). A world without hierarchy and order, without people formed around any group identities, religions or even families, is imagined to be a utopia free of conflict and suffering.

        In more practical terms, I would not seriously think about an author who believes there is no such thing as different human races when he says I should buy his book, “The Laws of Human Nature” (!)

    • dirk says

      So true, augustine, indeed, there are no PURE RACES, indeed, but in animal husbandry there are, e.g. black angus, holstein, brown suiss, and in sheep, poultry and pets like dogs and cats same thing. But, this is the area of biologists,breeders, taxonomists and vets, not of anthropologists, and in their field there is no hierarchy in races, diversity yes, but no (historical, and, yes, here we go again, think of Hitler’s uebermensch) superiority. I wonder (and expressed this recently in another recent thread here) if there is any communication between the scientists of these fields, I fear not at all, and that (physical) antrhopologists see only cultural and social anthropologists in congress and sessions , and never the real biologists and taxonomists.
      IN pure races, diversity is minimal, this is a matter of breeding (which takes a long time before the desirable features are “fixed”). In so called local and primitive, not yet pure bred landraces (as is the case in humanity??), this diversity is still large, and has disadvantages (lower yields) as well as advantages (stability, robustness, tolerance to diseases and shocks).
      And, indeed, why pop up with this theme here? It immediately attracts all interest, and the real theme is forgotten.

  22. Fickle Pickle says

    Where do all the ideas about what we are as human beings and by extension the natural world come from?
    They obviously emerge from the various structures of the body-mind-complex. The two sides of the brain, the two aspects or divisions of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic, and the central nervous system (spinal column) too.
    65-75% of the human body is composed of water, which is arguably the most amazing substance on this planet. It contains and transmits all kind of energies. It also retains and transmits memory.

    Put in another way our bodies are structured water.

    What then are the cultural implications of this scientifically proven fact?
    A good place to start would be via the work of Masaru Emoto and his book The Hidden Messages of Water.

    Even more radical is the work of Mae-Wan Ho via her three books.
    Living Rainbow H2O
    The Rainbow and the Worm
    Meaning of Life In the Universe.

  23. Fickle Pickle says

    At another more profound level what does modern quantum physics tell us about the nature of reality, and our human body-mind-complex too?
    Modern quantum physics tells us that everything is conscious light, that all of reality – every person, every object, every iota of space and time – is nothing but waves in an ocean of light.

    In other words the archetypal equation E=MC2 tells us that so called matter is Light or Radiant Energy.
    What does this communication mean in human terms? It means that we are energy, and the entire manifest cosmos, including the human body-mind is a spectrum of energy.
    We must presume, based on our present understanding and application of quantum physics, that “matter” is energy.
    Then what about our understanding and application of biochemistry, biophysics, human anatomy, human life altogether, and human culture?
    What will we do when we take the discovery of the relationship between matter and energy seriously? How do we make medicine out of the understanding that the human body is energy? How to we do philosophy, practice religion, diet, sexuality, economics, politics and social relations on that basis?

    • codadmin says

      Yes, but if matter is energy then there is only energy and therefore no realionship between the two. Only energy exists.

  24. Pingback: "Stop Assuming that Everything You Feel or Think Is Right"—An Interview with Robert Greene - Quillette | Infinite Smile

  25. C. Leslie says

    “Can you separate the flaws some people have with perhaps some political thing that came up in their life from their work or find some value or some lessons to be learned from them?”

    Whenever I express admiration for Elon Musk (you know, for being a self-taught rocket scientist etc.), the first thing people (friends, family, colleagues) say is: “Didn’t he call that guy a pedo on twitter?”

    Apparently this dwarfs his other achievements.

  26. Jason West says

    I’m confused. In Robert Greene’s first response he says people are wrong “who believe that humans are malleable and that we make our own nature.”
    And then he suggests that he has discovered the proper approach, which he describes here: “what I’m trying to say is humans can change, we can alter, we could become something superior.”

    So, it’s wrong to believe that humans are malleable… instead, we should believe that humans can change.


    Wait… isn’t that what “malleable” means?

    I think the real problem with these totalitarian regimes lies NOT in their belief that humans are malleable (Greene himself affirms that we are) but that they viewed other humans as animals who could be changed through force rather than reason. They believed that they could – and should – change the world without concern for morality. If anyone resisted their proposed changes, they tortured them into submission. If that didn’t work, they killed them. After all, we’re all just animals.

    This is a natural conclusion at which any totalitarian government should be expected to arrive. If they:

    – truly believe that everyone should hold their ideas and values
    – have the power to destroy anyone who refuses
    – believe that there is no real value to human life

    What would stop them from carrying out the atrocities we’ve witnessed at the hands of such governments?

    The issue is NOT whether we agree as to the malleability of humanity. We all agree on that point. The real issue is whether we value human life to the degree that we set limits on the government’s ability to force humans into conformity.

    • dirk says

      Try to explain that message of not (I think you mean) forcing humanity into conformity to the rulers and government of China, = 20% of humanity right now, and, who knows, soon the example for the rest.

  27. Constantin says

    Excellent and illuminating discussion. Thank you for sharing.

  28. Pingback: Saturday Links | 357 Magnum

  29. Republic Must Read says

    Great interview and ideas put forth from same.

    The key takeaways IMHO are these:
    1. “…turning a lot of intelligent people off social media, and from ever venturing into its waters because you can’t really have a sustained rational discussion.”

    Truer words never spoken. Facebook, Twitter, et al are platforms designed to cater to our worst intellectual instincts. Zuckerberg and others have created an additictive venue that creates (usually during people’s formative years as teenagers) a near-instinctive drive for constant validation, for constant attention (can you think of other reasons for photographing a fucking omellete and cup of coffee and sending it to 50 people?), for telling everyone “how it is” without having to be in the real world and have other people there (in person) to make you think twice about your words or actions?

    Social media (save for a few obscure forums like this one) is an intellectual sewer. Personal time spent reading books, articles, interviews like this is a far greater use of our time, regardles of our political beliefs. Proud to have zero social accounts / to have closed them out years ago after “I’ll see what it’s like.” Everyone here should do the same. It’s not the real world.

    2. Passive Aggressiveness.

    This is the defining characteristic of the generations under age 42-43 (roughly), in my opinion. It is amazing to watch them in public, at work, online. It is like everything they say and do is about adding that little touch of snark, of passive-aggressiveness, almost always to get a reaction of approval, of laugther, or whatever, from their peers “in the room.” They will gladly tear down anyone for a laugh, even if that person has done nothing to them. Zero ethics or benefit of the doubt before attacking. Zero. And they keep going until it’s gone to far, always.

    Any surprise their’s are the first “school shooting” generations? We’ve always had shitloads of guns and ability to sneak them into schools or work, but not always school or work shootings. Why? Couldn’t have anything to do with the constant snarking, bullying, down-putting, passive-aggressive crap against anyone who doesn’t fit the “majority mold” or who has been made the victim of rumors and fake accusations, could it? Doesn’t excuse the shootings but it’s amazing how the behavior of the would-be victims is never brought up in the media, never “what did kids do or say to this other kid that would drive them to this level of desparation?” Lessons never learned, either. Bullies have always been around, guns have always been around, so why did the school shootings start en masse with these generations, the smart phone / Facebook generations? Hmmmmmmmm.

    Everything is about judging others, putting people in their place without appearing to do so (i.e. faking politness or civility while attacking), because what they get out of it every time from their peers is a laugh, a like, a retweet. It’s effin pathetic.

    Articles like this and peripherally related issues about effects of social media should be required reading for everyone 15 and up. Regardless of their political stripe.

  30. Joaquim C says

    Human laws don’t exist… on the other hand: almost everyone know what they ought to do..

  31. Love Liberty says

    The author suggests being Socratic in social media exchanges. The responses I have had when adopting this method have included:

    1) You obviously know nothing about the subject.

    2) I don’t have time to teach you.

    3) Google it.

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