The Rise of the YouTube Intellectuals

Nick Crocker
Feb 8, 2018 · 5 min read

We were in an IKEA when Donald Trump became president.

We were following along on Twitter, and we ended up sitting for more than two hours, in shock, in one of those in-store display lounge rooms watching it all unfold.

It was surreal.

No-one on my Twitter feed was cheering. No-one on Facebook either. I wasn’t aware of a single person I knew who was happy with the result.

How disconnected from the other half of the world had I become?

In the wake of Trump’s victory, I started to try and construct an intellectually defensible reason why someone would, thoughtfully and consciously, vote for Trump.

I needed to seek out a wider range of views and perspectives than the ones I was reinforcing to myself through my Facebook friends and Twitter follows.

My starting point was Peter Thiel’s Press Club address from October 2016.

Thiel’s ‘Zero To One’ was full of original thinking. Through listening to Sam Harris’ podcast interview with Eric Weinstein, Thiel Capital’s Managing Director, I got the sense that any view Thiel lands on had been meaningfully stress-tested.

Pulling apart Thiel’s Press Club address allowed me to cobble together a more considered pro-Trump picture. Here’s what that picture looks like.

1. America is in bad condition.

  • 64% of those over the age of 55 have less than a year’s worth of savings to their name.
  • You have to pay up to 10 times as much for simple medicines as you would pay anywhere else.
  • America has become the only country where students take on loans they can never escape, not even by declaring bankruptcy.
  • Millennials are the first generation who expect their own lives to be worse than the lives of their parents.
  • In real dollars, the median household makes less money today than it made 17 years ago.

2. There is a prosperity divide that the prosperous aren’t acknowledging.

  • Unlike people in Washington DC or San Francisco who have maintained their prosperity, most Americans have not.
  • Many fortunate, socially prominent people are trying to drown out the voices of the half of the US that is suffering

3. America should not be fighting foreign wars.

  • Trillions of dollars are being spent fighting five foreign wars: Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia.
  • In the past 15 years, more than $4.6 trillion dollars has been spent, two million people have lost their lives, and more than 5,000 American soldiers have been killed.
  • Hillary Clinton’s calls for a no-fly zone over Syria would risk a direct nuclear conflict with Russia.

4. Free trade is hurting America.

  • Tens of thousands of factories and millions of jobs have been lost to foreign trade.
  • The trade deficit is too large. The United States is importing more than $500 billion dollars every year.

5. Government still has a job to do in fixing these problems.

  • Past US governments we more competent, as evidenced by them launching The Manhattan Project, the Interstate Highway System, and the Apollo Program.

6. Trump is the answer because…

  • Though some his views are “offensive and inappropriate”, those views aren’t as important as the big things he gets right, namely that he is…
  • willing to deal with reality and question American “exceptionalism”.
  • not over-optimistic about the outcomes of war and free trade.

Any country where most over-55s have less than a year’s worth of savings, healthcare costs are absurd, there is a student debt crisis, Millennials expect their own lives to be worse than the lives of their parents and the median household makes less money than it did 17 years ago clearly has problems.

The available surface area for the argument with Thiel then is:

  • Are his “offensive and inappropriate” views actually disqualifying?
  • Is there a different, more optimistic picture to paint of America?
  • What should American policy be in relation to foreign wars?
  • How should America fix its trade deficit?

And then, depending on your answers to those questions, you can decide which candidate you believe is better positioned to lead the free world?

That’s the political argument to have.

But we’re in a time of such polarisation, such sensationalism, such breathless, red-faced finger pointing, those aren’t the political arguments we’re having.

I think a lot of people feel the way I do. Confused by people on both sides of the debate. Excluded from the conversation. A long way from constructive discussion, or any meaningful, objective analysis of the problems we’re facing.

What was the last good suggestion you heard for addressing the wealth divide?

What was the last great article you read about the right way to manage a trade deficit?

Who do you trust to provide a path forward on how those five foreign wars should be managed by the US?

Do you feel there’s someone making constructive progress on the high cost of healthcare or the student debt crisis or stagnating wage growth?

I can’t.

Into that vacuum of constructive debate and objective analysis, a new generation of public intellectuals is emerging. They are taking the baton once held by the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins.

While they still all use books as their primary currency, they’re also fully leveraging podcasts, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube to elevate their ideas from the thousands to the millions.

They are pulling together threads of religion, spirituality, race, gender, ethics, politics, morality, philanthropy, free-speech, maths, and science and making them more accessible than they’ve been before.

And they’re actually asking, and trying to answer, hard questions. You might be familiar with them — people like:

  • Jordan Peterson.
  • Sam Harris.
  • Ta Nehisi Coates.
  • Ben Shapiro.

And a whole suite of others like… Tyler Cowen, Slatestarcodex, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Catharine Mckinnon, William MacAskill, The Rubin Report and Jonathan Haidt to name just a few.

The point isn’t whether you agree with them or not.

The point is that they make you think about hard questions. And they do it in a way that allows you to respond, process and develop your own view.

As far apart as Ben Shapiro and Sam Harris are on the existence of God, they are still deeply protective of each others’ right to believe, and to disagree.

Public political discourse has degraded beyond repair. Social media is reinforcing our biases.

But the rise of these YouTube intellectuals is a silver lining. Divergent, considered, powerful voices debating genuinely hard questions that affect us all.

Nick Crocker

Things I’ve Written

Nick Crocker

Written by

General Partner @BlackbirdVC. Supporting Australian startups @Startmate. Sequencing the journey to build strength along the way.

Nick Crocker

Things I’ve Written

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