The other day while browsing YouTube aimlessly I ran into this short and fairly heated clip from Lex Friedman’s recent interview with Kanye “Ye” West. I was really taken aback by that and decided to dig in. If you haven’t watched that interview, I’d strongly recommend you go ahead and watch it now. It’s a fascinating conversation and I think it’s worth your time.
As an avid podcast consumer, I’ve recently become a big fan of Lex’s interviews, he struck me as a very thoughtful, intelligent and rational interviewer whose views often resonate with me. As someone who thinks like a scientist and as an engineer (as Ye himself mentioned several times), Lex is a fantastic podcast host. So, I decided to learn more and spent the next two hours listening to what “Ye” had to say. Lex manages this tough conversation very skillfully, it’s certainly no easy feat.
I’ll confess I’ve never paid attention to pop culture and couldn’t care less about what the latest artists and celebrities are up to or babbling about on social media. Because of that, I was mostly unaware of Ye’s recent antisemitic comments on Twitter. This interview made me dig into that rabbit hole, which was pretty shocking, to say the least.
The first shock
A few minutes into that interview and I couldn’t believe what I was watching. As someone brilliantly put in the comments section, “Listening to ye is like trying to explain a dream you just woke up from”. It really sounded to me like a blob of completely disjoint and nonsensical ideas. My main takeaway halfway through the interview was that 1. Ye’s got some serious mental health issues and 2. I got deep respect for Lex’s ability to remain calm and in control of the situation, especially as a jew, being constantly attacked by Ye with accusative remarks against the jewish people in general.
I’m not gonna get hung up on Ye’s antisemitic remarks because I don’t claim to understand this deeply complicated and sensitive topic. Instead, I wanna step back and focus on the second order consequences of someone as famous and influential as him behaving as a madman who promotes this sort hate speech and divisiveness.
Going deeper into the rabbit hole
While reading the comments section, in disbelief, after finishing this interview, I saw someone pointed to this Valuetainment interview with Antonio Brown (none of which I knew beforehand) as another great example of skilful interviewers who manage to deal with a volatile and unstable guest. Coincidence or not, I learn that Antonio Brown (”AB”) is friends with Ye and his interview is even more wild and unbelievable, to the point of him being utterly disrespectful with the hosts.
“AB” refuses to answer any questions for almost an hour and acts in an extreme defensive, condescending and even hostile way towards very calm and patient hosts. It becomes very clear though that their patience is draining quickly and a few times they propose just ending the “conversation” early because it wasn’t really going anywhere. I’d probably have done that myself if in their shoes. It was just depressing and painful for me to watch.
Why all this nonsense
One would be naive to conclude that this is just their personalities and they are just voicing who they are in an authentic way. People like Ye and AB (and any other “pop celebrity”, for that matter), feed on attention. They need clicks, eyeballs, comments, media coverage, etc. They are addicted to it, they thrive in polemic and drama. Elon and Trump are other great examples of that.
Instead, the way I see it, is these are just actors, clowns. They are putting on a big show in a contest to see who gets the most views, likes, clicks, retweets, etc. This is the result of the current set of incentives that reward this type of behavior. Unfortunately, we (and that includes myself, since I’m calling attention to these people) are part of the problem.
The bottom line
Unfortunately, humans naturally seek drama, polemic, conspiracy theories, mad, extreme and erratic personalities, discord and that ultimately leads to hate and divisiveness. The examples are endless: Ye, Elon, Trump QAnon, etc. We feed this feedback loop, powered by the internet and social media, which rewards the most extreme views and biggest egos. Its a sad state of affairs, but now I understand that everyone’s part of the problem.
We can’t simply blame “them”. The problem is “us”, and that includes all of us. We feed this loop with clicks, views, comments, likes and retweets until the issue becomes too big to ignore.
With Elon’s recent acquisition of Twitter and the whole free speech thing, I’m often reminded of the Paradox of tolerance, which is extremely relevant nowadays.
“If a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant” - Wikipedia
I wish we had more people like Lex who will go against the grain and push back on this kind of behavior, calling people out on their bullshit.