Several friends have expressed surprise or even dismay at my interview with Tucker Carlson. One reader emailed me to tell me I should be “ashamed of myself.” How could I legitimize this awful man with a friendly conversation on feminism?
Let me share my reasoning.
Tucker’s worst views are only marginally worse than normal journalists’ views. Yes, he and I radically disagree on immigration. I favor open borders. Tucker favors a lot less immigration than we have. But almost everyone, including normal journalists, wants the border at least 95% closed to immigration. Why is someone who wants the border to be 99% closed so much worse? Similarly, Tucker and I radically disagree on pharmaceutical regulation. I think the FDA should be abolished and voluntary human experimentation legalized. FDA delays of Covid vaccines were terrible and cost many lives; I got mine ASAP. Tucker, in contrast, apparently thinks that the FDA should have delayed Covid vaccines even longer, and publicly discourages their use. But almost everyone, including normal journalists, thinks the FDA should standardly spend many years testing drugs for safety and efficacy before they’re available for sale. Why is someone who opposes an exception to standard FDA procedures for Covid vaccines - or just personally opposes the use of vaccines that bypassed standard FDA procedures - so much worse than someone who supports standard FDA procedures except for Covid vaccines?
While Tucker is extra-awful on a few issues like immigration and pharmaceutical regulation, he isn’t extra-awful overall. Indeed, his general views on regulation, government spending, discrimination, Black Lives Matter, and most other hot- button issues aren’t just marginally better than normal journalists’ views. They are markedly better. His views on education are exceedingly similar to my own. Unlike normal sanctimonious journalists, moreover, Tucker has a sense of humor and doesn’t act like he’s entitled to your agreement, so you can easily have an actual conversation with him.
I’m a vocal proponent of the Spiderman Principle: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Doesn’t that make Tucker morally worse than millions of nobodies who share his grotesque errors? Sure. But not worse than typical journalists who propagandize in favor of a larger set of grotesque errors.
You could say, “I don’t care if Tucker is better than the typical journalist. They’re all absolutely awful, so you shouldn’t talk to any of them.” But this just seems crazy to me. Lots of non-journalists share journalists’ deplorable views, so should I ostracize them, too? Can I only teach students who already agree with me? Where does this policy of self-enforced isolation end? Since I was active in the Randian movement in the late 80s and early 90s, I can tell you where it ends:
I lived in a subculture that embraced Rand’s virtue of moral intolerance, and saw the devastation. Genuinely smart and nominally rational people were quick to take offense and afraid to ask questions. Indeed, many were so afraid to talk to the “wrong people” that they stayed in their Randian intellectual ghetto, parroting their guru and her appointed successors. Vocal free-thinkers were often purged. As a result, Randians were mired in error. When they were wrong (as they often were), they lacked the cognitive methods and social lifelines to stop being wrong.
Alternately, you could protest, “You’re wrong, Bryan. Tucker is much worse than the typical journalist.” Let’s accept that for the sake of argument. I’d still rather sit down for an hour, have a friendly conversation, and try to make some intellectual progress. Per Dale Carnegie, this is how persuasion actually happens in the real world. You don’t win hearts and minds by shunning or damning. You win hearts and minds by being friendly. I’m not foolish enough to think that Tucker is likely to change his mind on immigration. But I say with confidence that if anyone on Earth changes Tucker’s mind on immigration, it will be me.
So I’d talk to absolutely anyone?! No, I draw the line at Nazis and Communists, who I deem beyond redemption. (Though even there, I’ll make an exception for the young totalitarians). If you really think Tucker’s on par with such people, you have a hyperbole problem. Objectively speaking, Tucker’s views are no worse than my dad’s, and I talk to him all the time. Yes, I even tell my kids to kiss their grandpa goodnight.
By the way, if you’re tempted to treat my Tucker interview as a strange lapse in judgment, you should know that I deliberately sought out his attention. I had a month to think it over. And I’d happily do it again.
Unless, of course, you change my mind in the comments.
Bryan why shouldn't you talk to whomever will have an open, interesting conversation with you? It is your choice. What happened to the belief in freedom of choice? What happened to tolerance of different opinions? There is absolutely nothing educational with talking to a group of people that all nod their heads together in agreement. People should be applauding you for the diverse amount of people that you have interviews with to understand your ideas. Who cares what others think...
Of course you should have talked to Tucker! There is a difference between a journalist who wants to ambush you, embarrass you, and "expose" (in his mind) your "stupid" position - versus one who, like Tucker, holds a controversial point of view but genuinely wants to understand a different perspective. It is possible to be both opinionated and objective; most of the time, Tucker passes muster on both counts. You said yourself his interview was genuinely fair, and that you enjoyed the interaction. What other evidence do you need? So, talk to Tucker, talk to Bari Weiss, talk to Glenn Greenwald, talk to the so-called "anti-vaxxers" who come from a scientific point of view, talk to commenters who regard intervention in Ukraine as against American interests. Talk to anyone who comes from a place of honesty and curiosity. Hell, you might learn something.