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POLITICS, MIND CONTROL & BRAINWASHING, AND JOINING A CULT

February 23, 2023

S04 - E07

Gregg Hurwitz discusses his comic book writing, what he learned by joining a cult, and how he thinks about protagonists and antagonists. Gregg discussed many of his thoughts around politics, public discourse, and how he spearheaded non-sanctioned political ads leading up to the 2020 elections. Lastly, Gregg discussed his latest book, The Last Orphan, and where he's taking it.

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GUEST(S): 

Gregg Hurwitz

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

Robert Hansen

Today I was joined by and had a fun conversation with Greg Hurwitz. We discussed his comic book writing, what he learned by joining a cult and how he thinks about protagonists and antagonists.

Greg discussed many of his thoughts around politics, public disclosure, and how he spearheaded non-sanctioned political ads leading up to the 2020 elections.


Lastly, we discussed his new book and where he's taking it. With that, please meet Greg Hurwitz. Hello and welcome to the RSnake Show. Today with me, Greg Hurwitz. How are you sir?


Greg Hurwitz

I'm doing well. How are you doing?


Robert Hansen

Great. Thanks for coming down. Where are you based currently? LA?


Greg Hurwitz

Los Angeles.


Robert Hansen

Yeah. So, you flew in. You have some meetings to do, or?


Greg Hurwitz

On a book tour. Oh, so different city a day. I'm at that part of the tour.


Robert Hansen

Oh my gosh. How are you doing?


Greg Hurwitz

It's good. Look, it's a lot of fun. Yeah. But it takes some stamina.


Robert Hansen

I bet.


Greg Hurwitz

It helps if you have a little bit of caffeine in the morning, a little bit of bourbon at night. There's a way to just regulate the time zones.


Robert Hansen

Yeah. So, I got to know was that a late night incident with your finger there because I saw it.


Greg Hurwitz

Okay. So, since I write these tough thrillers, there's two different versions of the story. One of them is either that I got it caught in the ejection port of a Benelli combat shotgun, or I dislocated it tucking in my shirt. So, I'm not sure which one we're going to go with.


Robert Hansen

I thought you were just going to do something like, "I got to be hyper realistic. I got to know what it feels like."


Greg Hurwitz

To injure my finger. Yeah. It's like the most humiliating injury that a thriller writer could have. But we'll just keep it between us, right? This isn't going to go further?


Robert Hansen

Sure. This isn't on camera. Of course not. Excellent. So, I thought to bring the audience along with us a little bit, because I know who you are, but maybe the audience doesn't.


So, I think it'd be fun to talk about some of the stuff that you're not here to talk about, which is some of your comic book writing. Because I think that's really, really interesting. Among others Wolverine, Punisher, Batman. I mean, most people are going to heard of all of those things, so that's great.


But I remember hearing somewhere that you were offered sort of your pick of the Marvel group that you could go after, and you decided of all of them to go after Punisher. I really have got to know why.


Greg Hurwitz

Well, there's two versions of that. That happened for me once at Marvel. And Punisher was my childhood everything, man. I love Punisher.


Robert Hansen

Me too.


Greg Hurwitz

I like kind of street level badassness. There's a lot of overlap, as you know with the Spec Ops community. And there's a writer called Garth Ns. I don't know how nerdy comic bookey you are. He's a phenomenal writer.


He had a seven year run on Punisher. A long run is two years. He was just leaving the title. Basically they were trying to figure out who could come in and write the next segment that would be on its own. So, I wanted to write something that was a hat tip to Garth's epic run.


It also established the Marvel max line which was their R-rated line. It was really the comic that let me understand as an adult, I was six books in, let's say novels, what the comic form could do.


Basically, I stepped in and had the first run after him. It was pretty make or break. Either it was going to go off well or I'd never write again in comics. Then when I went to DC they offered me a similar thing and I said, "What I really want to do is I really want to write an origin story for the Penguin."


The executive editor looked at me like I was insane. He's like, "Really? Out of everything? We got Green Lantern, we got Flash, we got everything. You want to write an origin story for Penguin?" I said, "Well, think about it. Penguin is the only one in the rogues gallery who is sane. Riddler's nuts. Joker's nuts.


He's not been taken seriously very much." Everyone thinks of the seventies role. That's kind of ridiculous. He never had his killing joke. The Joker has. So, I just had in my head this whole notion of how to kind of reinvent him as a formidable figure for the new 52. That was when they flipped the universe.


So, they did a poll before my book came out, where they asked people what their most anticipated, it was like the top 10 books coming up. I think I got 0.00014% of the vote. My favorite all time anonymous comment online where somebody said, "I'm really glad Hurwitz’s mom voted for him." I was like, "Ouch." Nobody wanted to see an origin story of Penguin.


Then what happened was the book came out and critics loved it. I had an amazing artist from Poland, Szymon Kudranski. He crushed the art. It came out and the critics really responded, then readers responded. Then DC was kind of saying, "Look, do you want to go take a spin at Batman?" David Finch is my favorite living artist.


I said, "I only want to do it if David Finch is the artist." They're like, "Well, we have an opening on Batman, the Dark Knight." So, one of the things I learned with that was, don't take the thing that you anticipate to be the most commercial. Do the thing that you have to do creatively because then it leads to all the right spaces.


I think it's true also with things that are non-creative. But if you're thinking about marketing and money and what's going to be big and what's going to be success, that's never been the route in for me. I just knew I had this because I was like, "Look, if you're penguin then Batman's a bully."


That's such a cool way to flip it. Because he's tall, he's handsome, he's rich, he's a ladies man. He's the opposite of everything Penguin is.

Robert Hansen

That's kind of weird that we've decided that a billionaire Playboy is the protagonist. Normally it's the other way around.


Greg Hurwitz

That's right. Bring down the patriarchy, man.


Robert Hansen

That's right.


Greg Hurwitz

But it was really fun to write it that way. To have it be where Batman can kind of be an asshole. He's swinging in, he's breaking people's jaws and penguins making his own way.


So, it was really fun. When I'm writing characters, part of the aim of that is you want to pull on their mask and see the world through their eye holes to really think about it and not just do an iteration of what came before.


I really wanted to think through that. Look, I had a great stride, a great experience in comics with Marvel and DC and now basically I only work on my creator-own stuff.


Robert Hansen

Yeah. So, just going back to Punisher for a second, that's got to give you like, crazy interesting access to all these like, Spec Ops types because now they're all wearing it. They all have it. That's part of their kit. You know what I mean?


Greg Hurwitz

I will say fortunately I had that before. I'd written six books. One of my closest friends is a former 60 gunner with the Seals. So, I've always had a really robust rolodex for research for the book side. But it is definitely an added cool point of overlap with some of those guys.


Robert Hansen

I was going to say, some of those guys just go, "Oh, what?" That is really cool." But I do like what you were talking about with a villain. I think a lot of people sort of ignore the villain.


There's sort of this kind of almost an afterthought like, "Oh, they're bad." They hate everybody. They're trying to destroy the world. But why? How did they get there? It's one of the reasons I like Magneto as a bad guy.


You can kind of understand like, why would he want to wipe out every single human on earth? It doesn't seem plausible that you'd ever get that bad. But if you're looking at it from his perspective, well, he's been incarcerated by bad people and so he knows how bad people can get.

Now he's thinking, "Well, you're going to come after my species, the mutants." I think that writing the villain in that way, you're like, "I kind of agree with him." I kind of see his perspective.


Greg Hurwitz

Well, a long time ago I stopped writing heroes and villains and started writing antagonists and protagonists. I used to think that the better I made my main character, the more virtuous, the best of the best, the more people would like him. But it doesn't work that way.


I mean, when you show cracks in your protagonist their flaws, their idiosyncrasies. Something that they do where they know they misstepped and then they feel bad about it. Those are all the points of entry I think for readers or viewers.


Likewise for antagonists, I always I want the antagonist to be sort of whispering darkly to your Jungian shadow. Where you're almost on the verge of going along with what it is they have to say.


They have to make a great argument. If they can make that argument that's compelling that you're hearing like a whisper in your lizard brain, then all of a sudden you know that if your protagonist can navigate through the complexity of the story and still emerge intact.


It's much more righteous in certain ways than if it's just clear cut. My first book was a serial killer novel. I started when I was 19. I mean, I was a kid, but I've moved away from that because part of it is like, "Well, why are they bad?" "Well, they're crazy."


Well, where do you go from there? I'm much more interested in having and hearing a motivation set that's off. Maybe it started off one degree at the source. Just over the years, it got further and further.


Robert Hansen

1% worse per year.


Greg Hurwitz

Yeah. And then, you know how trajectories work.


Robert Hansen

Interesting. Yeah. I think that there is something kind of interesting. If you're talking about somebody who is sort of a normal human being, you can actually kind of pervert them slowly over time.


Just as you said, like 1%, or you can just move the needle. And if you have just a tiny bit of externality, something that just kind of pushes them off the edge. That is a very real thing. You see this happen.


I mean, I'm sure you've had friends, they're like, they're fine one day and then the thing happens, whatever that one thing is. Then was the tipping point that made them the kind of insufferable or terrible person or whatever.


Greg Hurwitz

I wrote a book, one of my early books about mind control cults and I went undercover in a cults to research.


Robert Hansen

Yeah. I wanted to talk to you about that actually.


Greg Hurwitz

That's a lot of why I started to kind of parachute into some polarization and extremism stuff and culture and politics.


Robert Hansen

Can you back up? Why did you do that research?


Greg Hurwitz

I wrote a book that took place in mind control cults.


Robert Hansen

Okay.


Greg Hurwitz

What you said is exactly right. I mean, that's how they get you, right? They surround you with people everywhere. There's privacy deprivation. Of course, now we can do that ourselves. We carry this everywhere we go. Which is the whole universe.


An algorithmically curated universe targeted to eliciting a dopamine reaction and we go with us everywhere. But in a cult part of what they do is, when you get up and on a different location, people go with you everywhere. And everywhere you look, there's very subtle rewards.

So, if you act like Robert-Robert, break eye contact, lean away. But if you act like cult Robert, if you act like you're interested in the group, you start to get love bombed. There's more eye contact and everywhere you look.


It's amazing people think that with mind control cults that they prey on the weak, the dispossessed people from bad backgrounds, but they don't. They want people with resources. They want people who are steady. What they want are healthy people in times of transition.


So, where do you see them recruiting? Airports, bus stops, college campuses. But you need people who respond predictably. It's like if you're a magician on stage and you're calling up an assistant, you don't choose somebody who's evidently delusional, or schizophrenic because they're not keen to cues that your slide of hand can take advantage of.


Robert Hansen

You also don't want the super logical person who's definitely not going to fall for hypnotism.


Greg Hurwitz

No one wants the engineer. No one wants that guy. It's exactly that. There's all these means of persuasion and engagement and then you start seeing it everywhere.


Robert Hansen

What is the kind of typical person? How do you identify somebody who's much more likely to go along with whatever the status quo of the cult?


Greg Hurwitz

It's the vast majority of people. We don't like to think it's true. Well think, I mean, when's the last time you went to a Broadway show, let's say, or a musical or play?


Robert Hansen

It's been a while.


Greg Hurwitz

But when you did favorite of coders. Coders are always showing up for South Pacific and hackers. But if everyone's applauding and you're in the fifth row and everyone around you stands up, there's an enormous amount of pressure to stand up.


Robert Hansen

I see.


Greg Hurwitz

Because you feel like you don't want to be the asshole who's sitting there like, "No, I'm making a statement." And so, they prey on actually healthy. How we function is by, a rule called reciprocal concessions. Someone does something for you, you want to do something for them.

That's a basis of good trade. It's part of why England was so amazing. That's what credit runs on. So, it plays on that a lot. Like at an airport, sometimes people go around and they leave like a little flower for you. Then they come back and ask for donation.


Well, the odds go up exponentially that you'll give them something. There's all these manipulation techniques. If somebody calls and you want their time for something, let's say to work on a political campaign, you can say, are you willing to volunteer like two eight-hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday?


And you go, "Oh my God, I can't, I'm busy." "Oh, how about a donation then for $40?" Well, the odds go up exponentially, they'll donate because they feel like, "Oh, you let me off the hook for one thing. How do I kind of return that?


So, you see this in sales, you see it everywhere. But the main thing is, that's how healthy people act. I mean, when I went undercover, I went to this cult kind of lockdown. It was at like a Marriott near the airport and there's 500 people, they put you in a big horseshoe shape.


Everyone's seen each other and they'll say, "Whoever's ready for change stand up." The amount of social pressure that is exerted with 499 people standing up and you're position so that it's clear you're the only one sitting is hard to describe.


Robert Hansen

So, did you stand?


Greg Hurwitz

I did eventually. But part of my game was different. I wanted to keep pushing and pushing to see what next level would come up because I wanted to see how, what I could elicit from the cult structure.


But if you push too much, then they determine that you're a goat and they'll move you out and then you get kind of kicked out because one goat can infect the sheep. That's the power of the individual. We've all seen 12 Angry Men?


Robert Hansen

Yeah, sure.


Greg Hurwitz

So, 12 angry men illustrates what's called group shift. How you shift a group dynamic. If you can be in the minority, but you better be honest, consistent. There's a set of rules that you need as an individual to shift the culture.


Which is really interesting because when we see people right now trying to shift the culture, they're not embodying the traits by which lasting social change often comes about. There has to be a virtue that's attached to it.


But individuals, the power of the individual is, is that if you can maintain and stand up to something, but you're aligned morally and ethically, then you can produce a shift.


So, they don't want that. I didn't want to push too hard for them to realize that I could break the spell because how cults function is through a... There's a term called pluralistic ignorance. Have you heard that?


Robert Hansen

No. That's interesting.


Greg Hurwitz

Everyone's miserable, but they can't talk to each other, so they can't share it. So, they have this smile plastered on their face. If they try to talk to somebody else, all the relationships are sort of dominated vertically. So, that's part of why there's privacy deprivation. That's what we've done to ourselves in some ways when we carry technology everywhere.


Robert Hansen

Filter bubbles,


Greg Hurwitz

I do think that our polarization that we're seeing, and this extremism in the country is a version of that. We've done a lot of polling. I've done a lot of pro bono work in the culture and politics.


Basically, 80 to 85% of Americans agree on everything. I mean, where the line is for abortion that should be legal, immigration, environmental issues. But everyone's miserable and terrified of the cost of speaking out.


So, we're frozen in this state of pluralistic ignorance. Now, it's not like North Korea where everyone's miserable and they can't talk. So, they're all smiling. But you can see very clearly that control for information.

Control of access, fear of speaking out at the hands of a polarized, loud toxic fringe from left and right, both can claim the middle ground really readily. If people start to get afraid of how to actually talk and express things. People have a lot of complex views on stuff.


Robert Hansen

This is the banality of evil. This is the going on...


Greg Hurwitz

On a rant.


Robert Hansen

Yeah. So, out of curiosity were you actually afraid that you might not be able to get out of the cult once you were in? Was that a real concern?


Greg Hurwitz

Did some testing with them. It was like an eight-hour lock-in event. At the end of it, of course, what they tell you with great love bombing is, "Robert, you did so well. You're such a leader that we want to invite you to our weekend retreat for specially chosen leaders for $3,000" Or whatever it's going to be. That's where they get you. That's what I didn't do.


So, they put you in the back of a van, there's no windows. You're filling out forms, you're not paying attention to where you're going. Van winds up into the hills, magically it happens to be out of cell phone range. Then they put you in a cabin. There's maybe a broken sprinkler by your window that keeps you up all night.


Sleep deprivation starts that privacy deprivation starts. They can control your food. They'll manipulate high sugar, high carbs. There's buzzes. The leaders, they'll wake you up at 600 in the morning. You do like drums and chanting.


It takes about three days to catch hold of someone to permanently start to alter their behavior. I didn't undergo that. No, I would've, but I just was like, "I got a wife and kids."


Robert Hansen

Yeah. I was more curious. I mean, they could have just drugged you and dragged you off as just as readily, right? I mean, it wouldn't have been as easy for them to convert you because you feel like a prisoner. Crazy people do crazy things.


Greg Hurwitz

What's interesting about mind control and what differentiates it is, there's a difference between that and brainwashing. Mind control is where there's an agenda to alter your behavior that you're not aware of. It's not by force. I'll give you another example of a very subtle difference.


So, the Chinese ran the POW camps in the Korean War, and they were trying to get Americans to sort of turn against America. So, they started to run a competition. Like an essay competition. Here's an example.


This is more like in the brainwashing camp because they're under your control, but then they're using a mind control technique that's manipulative that you're not as aware of within that structure.

They said to people, "Look there's nothing perfect on earth. There's no nation that's perfect. So America's a nation. So America's not perfect. So, tell me one thing that's not perfect about America?"


Okay. That's not too threatening, right? We're free thinkers. So, they say it. They say, "Write it down." But when you write something down, you're more committed to it. That's the wiring and in your brain.


That's why it's good to take notes during lectures. Then they say sign your name to it. Well, if you sign your name to something, that's why the Ginsu knife salesman are always having you sign a contract.


Even if it's not really legally binding. You sign your name to something, that's your name. Then they had a competition and whoever won by telling the best story of a flaw in America, what would you guess that they won if they were in a POW camp?


Robert Hansen

More food or more freedom, more access.


Greg Hurwitz

You'd think something cool. But the answer oddly is a single cigarette. The reason for that is if you get more food or you get more rest, then it's pretty easy to justify within your head. Of course I said what I needed to do to get what I wanted, but no one wants to believe you sold out your country for a single cigarette.


So, it's tricky. There's an interesting kind of reverse with persuasion that often moves a different way. When Crystal did this, when they're hunting Zakowe. That's another thing to talk about writing villains. I wrote a pilot about that and we can talk about that in a minute. Zakowe was so brutal.


He was the butcher of Baghdad. He was ISIS in Iraq. He was so bad that Bin Laden apologized for him. But one of the things McChrystal did when he came in and really wanted to put the pressure to him, he said, "Wait, there's a 20 million reward for him. Let's drop it to five, let's drop it to 15 for his lieutenants."


Obviously that was enraging, right? So, it's like there's all these ways sometimes that you lean the opposite way to elicit different techniques. Then it's like, "Oh, wow, let's look around." Are we seeing that anywhere in mainstream media, in politics and culture. What are the ways those are working? What are the ways with AI that's bearing down on us now. In ways that are also wonderful, right?


Robert Hansen

No, absolutely.


Greg Hurwitz

As with all technology, right? It's just more power.


Robert Hansen

Itself isn't ethical or unethical. That's how it's used. I think that's often confused for philosophy or Metaphysics, and it just isn't.


Greg Hurwitz

But how do we look at the techniques with which we are engaging with these things to determine and have parameters around their usage in a way that feels like it makes sense or it's ethical, or that we can keep our culture ordered and not have it tear itself apart.


Robert Hansen

I see virtually nobody talking about the ethics of AI in the way that I would expect. They're mostly about is this algorithm sensitive like racially or whatever. That is certainly unissue.


But there are so many other ethical, long-term concerns that are potentially quite viable also could turn out to be nothing. But we haven't really had that conversation yet. Look at robots for instance, just so you know what I'm talking about. Look at robots and everyone says, "Oh, we have these Asimov’s top three rules."


No, one anywhere is following those rules. It is absolute garbage. It's a fun thing to talk about. Roomba doesn't have those rules built into it. I've never seen any robot ever, like those robots that like drill stuff into cars or whatever. They don't have those rules built into them. So yeah, I think there's a lot missing there.


Robert Hansen

A lot less technology. Ethics and technology. So, back to the cult, because I'm very curious about this. Do you think that they were as understanding about what they were doing or was that just sort of they fell into it or?


Greg Hurwitz

Well, there's two different versions. If you meet, let's say a husband who's been beating his wife for 30 years. He might have PhD level brilliance. It's psychological manipulation that's trial and error.


It just being like an egregious piece of shit for so long that it's condition where it's almost masterful at the level of bullying. Or you can see condition loops. Like if there's homeless people who've been begging on the streets forever.


That there's a strong reinforcement loops to different behavior types. Sometimes if they're very mentally ill, it's hard to figure that out. But there's other ways that you watch kind of people just evolve from really hard or strenuous real world circumstances or their mental illness, propelling them into something like abuse.


They can achieve a certain kind of mastery. But a lot of these cults that are doing it, they know all these techniques. They know what they're doing and they know how they're doing it.


Robert Hansen

How do they justify that? I mean, how do they say this is the right path? Is this the righteous path?


Greg Hurwitz

This is one of the things that's hard for people talk about, because you have to contain two opposites in your mind. A lot of stuff with cults initially can be good. All of a sudden people have a purpose. People are casting about, they find a meaning but they're transferring their independence into the hands of somebody else.


But initially, maybe they're getting up on time, maybe they're making their bad, right? Maybe they have a routine, maybe they have a community now.


So, when people are lost, when they're in those times of transition, we talked about they're looking for something. I think that's part of the disconnect that we feel around in politics in a lot of ways. That people we're at point right now that people cannot comprehend the other side. It's become an indistinguishable monolith of people trying to destroy America.


I do a lot of travel across in all kinds of different corners. It's not dissimilar because people are like, "How could you possibly vote for candidate X or belong to party Y?" Part of it is, there are benefits. It makes sense to tuck in group favoritism when the terrain is that rocky in the middle that we discussed, whether that's left or right.


When pluralistic ignorance exists and when these extremes are have like a vice lock on what the cultural conversation is. People don't want to be out in no man's land.


Robert Hansen

So, back to the cult for a second.



Greg Hurwitz

You're loving this cult. Are we going to build a cult?


Robert Hansen

Oh, we should. That'd be great. No. Every once in a while I run into somebody who has a really funny idea for a cult, but no. No, thank you. But I am curious, is this kind of where you got your ideas about how a villain can actually be on both sides?


Yes, I'm going to make you a really upstanding person in like these 80 ways, even though I'm doing this massive amount of brainwashing on you and turning you into something wildly different. I mean, there's a way to spin that. That sounds kind of good.


Greg Hurwitz

That's right. I mean, look, all of this things make sense in hindsight. I look back and there's such a pattern to what I studied and what I've done. I mean, I was undergrad, I studied English and psychology.


I was obsessed with first Freud. All those case studies read like short stories. They're just beautifully written. Then I was fascinated and captivated by Carl Jung. All he ever wrote about was narrative and archetypal narrative.


So, I was doing that. I was studying literature. I focused on Shakespearean tragedy, which essentially are thrillers. We can talk about that later, should we want to.


Robert Hansen

Okay.


Greg Hurwitz

But all of this is about the sort of union of opposing ideas, whether that's super ego and Id, whether that's anima and animus, whether that's ego and shadow. That's the yin yang. I think in a lot of ways the job of an artist, of any kind of a creative person is you're on that sine wave in the yin yang. You're right on the edge of chaos and you're trying to order it.


But I can't write a book and say, "Well, I've determined what my book's about. Here's all my themes and here's all my conclusions and let me fill it in." It's chaotic. You want to go on these excavations that you're not quite sure where they will lead you. And you're assimilating stuff out of a more chaotic right out of your right brain but you're bringing it to bear.


So, I think a lot of ways, you want to be a stride that sine wave in order and chaos. I think of the eye holes is like, where the feet should be planted. It's like colossus of roads. Look, I was mentioning Zakowe. I adapted a book, a brilliant book by Joby Warrick called Black Flags about the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Zakowe.


Zakowe, he was a brilliant, horrific terrorist. He had a big plan on unleashed chemical bombs on Aman. He planned a bunch of the bombings there, first of all. But he had a big plan to release chemical weapons and the Mu Kabara, which is Jordan's intelligence agency, stopped at.


He thought, "Well, instead of doing another big plan that can be disrupted, why don't I just kidnap one American backpacker and I'll saw his head off on live TV or I'll record it. I'll record it and upload it in exactly the right format that it can easily be downloaded or spread virally through rural America that was just starting to get broadband so that I could propagate that."


An individual personal act of terror will be just as horrifying as a big bomb or explosion. Perhaps even more so. That's one of the distinctions. So, I think of him like he thought about terrors for so long that he turned it into something else almost.


It's like what Steve Jobs did with a phone. He thought about the phone long enough until our phone's no longer a phone. He did the same thing with music. Zakowe was brutal but he was also a genius strategist. I was writing about him for months on end.


As I said, part of my job as a writer is to really embody him and explain his viewpoints and his values and where he's coming from and what he's angry about. Every two weeks I would go back and I would force myself to watch that video.


It's horrifying. I'd get the full body sweat when something, you don't want to see something. But just to make sure that I never fell into kind of moral relativism about who I was dealing with.


But if I'm writing him without empathy and care for his perspective, that's not going to be compelling or accurate. Because he's coming out of somewhere in something. It just happens to be violent and reprehensible to me. But I have to write that properly in a certain regard.


Robert Hansen

I think this makes you uniquely qualified. As it is for me. I have to think about adversaries all the time. Because I have to think about stopping them from getting into systems. You're in the exact same position. You have to think about what does this person really want to accomplish?


It might be a somewhat noble goal. "I want my family to be fed. I want my religion to still exist." Or whatever. On the face, if you just take that in a microcosm, that's maybe kind of a noble goal. It's kind of the term eco-terrorist. "I want to save the world. But I want to do it by bombing things." There's ways to take something that's very benign and turn it into something pretty awful.


Greg Hurwitz

Well, that's why in a lot of ways, if one wants to intervene in the cultural or political conversation, often it's effective. It's much more effective to use judo than boxing. You want to figure out what someone's after and kind of redirect energy because if you just meet force with force, we get in a nonstop escalation loop. That's what we're in right now.


Robert Hansen

Can you give me an example of what each one might look like? What's a judo versus a boxing in this context?


Greg Hurwitz

If you wear a mask, you're a liberal cock. If you don't wear a mask, you're a fascist racist, uneducated piece of shit. Those solidified in a position so rapidly it was mind boggling of like, "Wait, what?" If we rewound to like, "Where are the conversations around."


Robert Hansen

Of those feel a bit like being boxed. Is there more of a judo version of it?


Greg Hurwitz

I thought you meant the boxing version.


Robert Hansen

Well, is there a judo?


Greg Hurwitz

Oh sure. There's a judo. So Norman Doidge who wrote the Brain That Fixes Itself. One of the, maybe not the father of brain plasticity, but he really brought it into the mainstream. He's brilliant. He wrote a long piece, I believe it was tablet. He was talking about what you need to get to mandatory vaccinations.


So for me, I come at most politics from center-left. My own politics are quite liberal. Liberal, not leftist.


Robert Hansen

Classical liberal.


Greg Hurwitz

Yeah. I mean, but my entry point tends to be that though, I have enormous regard for conservative positions and libertarian positions.


Robert Hansen

I'm not sure everyone's going to know what that means. It might be worth spending just one minute on what the difference between classical liberal and or whatever your views are and what you mean.


Greg Hurwitz

I mean, like freedom of speech. I tend to come down on a perspective of regulation instead of unhinged free market. Though I like a free market that is based on innovation and competition, but when it gets into regulatory capture monopoly, we start to have a problem. I'm pro-life. I'm sorry, I'm pro-choice.


I'm almost entirely opposed to the death penalty. My initial proclivity tends to be towards trying to help and invest in disadvantaged communities. I've a liberal views on gay rights, gay marriage. A lot of that.


But for me, I'm also very aware that my personal politics with that whole pot of things, that there's people of very goodwill and a lot of intelligence who make incredible arguments, who have differing views on some of those topics. But to use the example we're talking about vaccinations for COVID. I'm from a family of doctors.


Robert Hansen

Or masks. I think that was the original argument.


Greg Hurwitz

Yeah. But we're kicking into vaccinations now because you're asking about judo.


Robert Hansen

Sure.


Greg Hurwitz

The liberal position, which was basically that believe the science. Just believe the science, believe the science.


Robert Hansen

That sounds awful, like getting hit in the face.


Greg Hurwitz

But also it's like, "Well, what science?" Evolutionary biology, like psychology? Are we talking about supply chain experts? I'm from the San Francisco Bay area. I have liberal Jewish parents. I'm from a family of doctors. If I was more on brand, I'd be a Tesla.


Robert Hansen

Not anymore.


Greg Hurwitz

Yeah. If I was more on brand, I'd be back to a Prius. That's true. Got to get sporty. It's hard to keep up with the pop culture references. But there was a discussion to be had of like, "Guess what? A lot of people, and a lot of communities in America, their last interface with big pharma and government was the opioid epidemic." The opioid epidemic was, everyone got their prescriptions written properly.


I don't know if you ever saw Miss Evers Boys about the experiments on syphilis with black Americans way back in the day that they just infected. Black Americans were lagging, for instance, in some of the outreach and openness to vaccinations.


Robert Hansen

I've heard about this.


Greg Hurwitz

It's like, "You know what? Certain communities have a legitimate position to have legitimate concerns about getting vaccinated out of a nexus of government and big pharma where there's billions of dollars in profit." That's a reasonable hesitation. No one's allowed to discuss that as such.


A lot of the stuff that I do is, if I have a value that I think is important, which for me was not mandatory vaccinations, but it was trying to kind of, how do we make good faith arguments that are respectful of people who are in different ways?


Another example of judo, only do pro bono interventions in the political world because it's so messy that I always say like, "Orphan acts." When I intervene in those ways, I ask for no money, no credit and no permission. It's the only way to get anything done.


But a democratic candidate will come in and pound the table and say, "Universal healthcare is a right." It's like, "Okay, well you've just soap boxed now and promulgated your virtue." But like, it's not a right. It's not in the Bible. What are you talking about? It's not in the constitution.


How do we determine that as an absolute versus having a position that says, look, it makes sense to have a baseline of medical care in this country. We don't want people dying on the streets. First of all, it's un-American. It's unethical. It can cause public health outbreaks.


The average cost of an emergency room visit pre-COVID was $1,233. With COVID it was $77,000. The average cost of an inoculation for something. Let's leave COVID out because that's its own bag of piranhas. Bag of piranhas a good new metaphor.


Robert Hansen

Of course.


Greg Hurwitz

I'll put that in the next book.


Robert Hansen

Hope it's a plastic bag.


Greg Hurwitz

But an average inoculation is $17. So, we're paying both either way. That's why Tylenol is like $90 in an ER. That's why we have high rates. That all gets passed on to us.


So, as dollars and cents Republicans and Democrats and Libertarians and conservatives, which do we want to pay for? Is there a way for us to do this smarter that's preemptive, that saves a great deal of money.


That doesn't tax emergency services and the public health department and cause outbreaks in our communities that also encourages entrepreneurism. Canada has a higher entrepreneurism rate than America. That's crazy. Part of that is that you don't have to be tied to your job with healthcare.


So, there's different ways to make an argument that brings it in through a value structure that makes sense to more people. But what do you have to seed? You have to seed your moral superiority.


Robert Hansen

That's a tough one.


Greg Hurwitz

From both sides.


Robert Hansen

It is.


Greg Hurwitz

I mean, I tend to come in harder on Democrats because that's the party that I belong to.


Robert Hansen

This is probably the reason I was most excited to talk about. This very specific point because most people, they attack the other side. They go like, "My side is whatever, and the other side, they're bad because of X." You are saying my side is bad because of X and we could improve, and if we do, we'll get a larger share of the pie.


Greg Hurwitz

Or we'll learn all the ways that we're wrong, I need to amend...


Robert Hansen

Which is amazing.


Greg Hurwitz

Right. It's amazing to figure out where you're wrong.


Robert Hansen

That's great. I can't believe this is a contentious thing even. It seems like that's how it should be done.


Greg Hurwitz

No, not just contentious, but to do it again with pluralistic ignorance, you're risking massive financial and reputational damage.


But look, when President Trump was elected, and I was not a fan of President Trump, first thing I did was look in the mirror and go, "How did everything that Democrats do fail so that this was a more palatable option for about half of Americans?" If we think about it for like 30 seconds, we know that's the only way anything gets done.


Anyone who's been married, anyone who has a boyfriend or girlfriend it's like...


Robert Hansen

How did I get in this argument?


Greg Hurwitz

How did you screw is your answer that you've done everything right. The more complex a matter gets. For me, the baseline statistic that kind of governed my entire entry, I think the most important statistic is that since Reagan, $50 trillion with a T has gone from the bottom, 90% of Americans to the top 1% with a T. That's a staggering transfer of wealth.


Now, part of that is globalism, part of that is brilliant entrepreneurs and innovators and billionaires in Silicon Valley. Like, "Good on you." Buy a bunch of houses, get a bunch of cool cars. But a lot of that is like regulatory capture, Monopoly. There's a lot of games played. If you chart that course, it's not like that only happened under Republicans..


Robert Hansen

Of course not.


Greg Hurwitz

But one of my favorite candidates is Alyssa Slotkin. She was 20 years CIA and she's a congresswoman out of Michigan. She's amazing. When she was first running in 2018 she was side by side with, I think it was someone on a Ford assembly line, I want to say, she's Michigan.


One of the guys said to her, "Look, my whole career for the last 40 years has been a straight line going down. I work harder and harder and I get less and less. It's harder for me to keep a roof over my head and pay for healthcare and pay for anything.


I consider myself a stage four cancer victim and Trump is experimental chemo." If we look at it that way, that elicits I think a position of anyone trying to speak on behalf of power or any political party, even if you're a newcomer to the party like Alyssa was, that should elicit more listening and humility and trying to get to outcomes over anything.


Believe me, I got plenty of criticisms. As much as I've been displeased with the left and with Democrats, I have plenty of issues also with Republicans. It's just not we know what those are.


Robert Hansen

Are there any legitimate, like truly legitimate concerns about the way you're going about things that you've heard like, "You really shouldn't do this because of X?" Or is this just me personally?


Greg Hurwitz

I mean all the time.


Robert Hansen

What kind of legitimate concerns do people have?


Greg Hurwitz

It'll destroy your sanity, your career, your public person.


Robert Hansen

You personally?


Greg Hurwitz

Oh yeah.


Robert Hansen

But I don't think that's done that, or at least not that I've seen or has it?


Greg Hurwitz

No.


Robert Hansen

Yeah, exactly. It hasn't.


Greg Hurwitz

So, it's not a legitimate concern. Well, I see, one say I'll do it.


Greg Hurwitz

I mean, you look what happened to JK Rowling.


Robert Hansen

Oh yeah. That was interesting.


Greg Hurwitz

Like, find a quotation from JK Rowling that's not in support of trans rights. It doesn't exist. She's very, very liberal. Very, very open. Was making a different set of points and she's a lot more powerful than I am.


Robert Hansen

Yeah. That was a shame.


Greg Hurwitz

I have an adult trans godson who transitioned under my roof after two years of therapy and he's a therapist. These positions have no bearing in certain regards in on reality.


So, I think there's just now been a reposition on an opinion piece from the New York Times this week about JK Rowling that she might not be like satanically transphobic.


It's like you can pull quotations from her where she's like, "I'm all about trans rights. Just also, there's an intersection with women's rights and as somebody who believes in women's rights, here's my opinion."

The fact that that deems her so completely incapable of participating in society. Her name scrubbed off major events. It's pretty extraordinary, the standard to which we've allowed people to be erased.


Robert Hansen

I find that particular thing really scary. It's one of the reasons I like doing a podcast. I'm just like, "I need people to be able to get a platform." Especially topics like this that are on the fringe. They could go either way.


Some people are going to go really mad at you for one sentence. Another group of people are going to get really mad at it for a different sentence in the same episode. That's what real discourse looks like.


Greg Hurwitz

It's so good that you're doing this. It's part of what's so compelling about podcasts with people who are not just sort of propagandizing. Is that the only way to break to shatter that spell of pluralistic ignorance is to have conversations that are like this.


It's to have conversations to say so that a lot of people are out there. Go, "Wait a minute." I'm locked into space. I'm pro-choice like rather vehemently. I don't like the way it's talked about.


I also think there's a lot of other ways to have a discussion and a place to draw a line. And my faith comes into play. There are so many people who have complicated views on things. We all do. How could you not have a complicated view on abortion or race or trans rights? These are unbelievably complicated topics.


Robert Hansen

That's why I've carved each one out individually because trying to conflate them is a mess. It's an absolute mess. You end up saying, they, a lot. I'm not a fan of that.


Greg Hurwitz

But I mean, look, we've made it impossible to set a bar that we have to talk perfectly about topics that can only be spoken about imperfectly. Part of what we figure out what the hell we think is by having conversations and trying things on.


Look, I do this all the time. Like I'll go way across into some other community and really try and listen and open and engage and see what the perspective is. That sometimes involves some disillusion of what you think because you're trying to kind of contain that viewpoint. It's like what I was talking about Zakowe. You know the psychologist Carl Rogers?


Robert Hansen

Yeah. Sure.


Greg Hurwitz

How did that make you feel?


Robert Hansen

Yes. And how to actively listen.


Greg Hurwitz

That's exactly it. What's cool with him is he popped the patient up from the couch staring up. And Freud's sitting behind smoking his pipe with his book and they were face to face.


You see these things like perspective switch ripple through different disciplines. You have the sound and the fury with Faulkner or Rashman or Theory of Relativity. But it also gets to the arts also.


So, we have this massive shifting in perspectives in a lot of ways. Part of what he thought was that to listen to have, I think his term was, unconditional regard, but I might have that wrong. My psychologist's wife would correct me. For the patient.


Robert Hansen

Oh, you live with psychologists?


Greg Hurwitz

With a woman much wiser than I am.


Robert Hansen

Oh my gosh. Those fights must be very fun.


Greg Hurwitz

She's something man. But what he thought was that you actually have to set your nervous system in place to sort of receive and join, 

understand. It's a nervous system exercise to listen properly. It makes sense if you think about it. If anyone who has kids or is around kids, like when kids get upset or they lose their mind, you don't want to react to them. You want to be a container for their emotion.


Even like if you have a loved one who's grieving or is in pain, you don't want to just jump on that end of the seesaw. So, a lot of what Rogers was talking about was that to really listen effectively in some ways, you have to have enough security within yourself to open your nervous system to the ideas fully.


I think that's something that we have stopped practicing in all position views. We have to put these parameters around our mind. We can't even think about a position that would be opposed on go on the list.

Go on the list of flashpoint topics. It used to be an exercise to say, argue the other side. Think about the other side. What's the best argument? I mean, one of the things I've found that's been fascinating is the further I dive down to an issue, the closer I learn about what the smart conservative viewpoints on it are.


I almost feel like if I was smarter and wiser, if I was like the perfect yin yang, I'd be 50% liberal and 50% conservative.


Robert Hansen

That's pretty close to where you are.


Greg Hurwitz

Yeah. I mean, I still tend liberal. Part of that's my big five personality structure.


Robert Hansen

I sense that you can bridge the gap pretty easily.


Greg Hurwitz

Yeah. One of the biggest determinations of political proclivity... You know the big five personality test?


Robert Hansen

Yeah, Jordan Peterson's.


Greg Hurwitz

Pre-dates him.


Robert Hansen

No, I know.


Greg Hurwitz

He's masterful and his assessment of it. But people know that as the Myers-Brigg. So, one of the biggest predictors of political leaning, and when I say political leaning, I'm not even talking Democrats and Republican. The words don't even make sense anymore. I mean, conservatives and liberals, so let's go old-fashioned. Is trade openness.


So, high trade openness are artists, right? I'm super high trade openness. That's why Hollywood tends very liberal or magazines or fashion. That's why cities are really high trade openness. I want to live around different kinds of people.


I like different foods. I like different accents. That's not a white thing or a black thing, or a brown thing, or a green thing. That's a bell curve across all cultures. Lower trade openness, people who like more predictability conservatives tend to be higher in trait conscientiousness. It's just a different trait structure. They need to work in concert.


So, whether you believe that they're evolutionarily selected or God-given, we need both of the constructs. There's a reason that we've arrived in a culture where basically half of us come in equipped with our unchangeable, largely unchangeable big five personality traits on one side and one half on the other. The reason is that you can understand why a conservative mindset wants to...


Robert Hansen

More walls.


Greg Hurwitz

Right. Build a wall. They like walls around things.


Robert Hansen

They do.


Greg Hurwitz

They want ingroup definition. You can understand why that's a value. If you think about Native Americans, when Europeans came, like proffering smallpox blankets to be like, "Hang on a minute. Hold on, we don't want contamination. We don't want integration in our community. There's reasons for that distrust."


Robert Hansen

And biological reasons at that,


Greg Hurwitz

That's right. That's the smallpox, right?


Robert Hansen

Yes.


Greg Hurwitz

So, there's reasons for that that are inherent in our genome or soul or whatever your preferred value structure is. So, building a wall, like it makes sense that we need walls around things, but if that wall is too porous, if it's too rigid, then new ideas and people don't come in and then we can stagnate and die.


You see this all the time in tech, right? Where you have Steve Jobs who's like incandescent brilliant. He's going in all these directions, but then they fire him and the CEOs. Conservatives make better CEOs. Liberals, tend more visionaries. That's the big trade openness.


So, they can run everything on time until it just runs out of ideas. Oh, we need Steve Jobs back to be more explosive with different ideas. That's trade openness at work. The two parts of your brain, right and left hemisphere, like CEO visionary or C-suite visionaries. In politics, you need both. I think of it in a lot of ways that liberals are like the gas pedal and conservatives or the brakes.


So, if you just stomp on the gas, you go smash into a wall or go off a cliff. But if you stand on the brakes, then no one goes anywhere. If we are going to navigate complex social change, like say AI that's coming, that's going to undo any comprehension that we have of the world and ourselves, we probably want to have both the gas pedal and the brake pedal working.


Other countries aren't sitting around waiting to have arguments over every last flourish on the cable news network. In fact, they're feeding a lot of it here. So, a lot of people here I think are acting and engaging in ways... I think a lot of people don't even know why they think what they think they think in America anymore.


I mean, there's so much algorithmic targeting that's happening and with supercomputers, deep machine learning that's, quicker than we are on the draw.


Robert Hansen

I think largely what's missing from the conversation as well is it's two things. It's a change of language because language does change over time. Obviously, we wouldn't have the English language at all if it didn't. But also a change of technology, those two things. So, to your stepson, is that what you said?


Greg Hurwitz

Godson.


Robert Hansen

Godson. For instance, one of the things I've been thinking for a long time is, we have these conversations about trans rights or whatever. But there will be a point in the future where you can just go into a trans shop and either take a pill or sit in a chair for a couple hours or whatever, and you come out whatever you want to look like in whatever organs or whatever.


The day that that's possible, the day you can show up to the bachelorette party and then the next day you're the groomsmen and the next day you're back at work as a woman or vice versa or whatever. All the language that we use to describe men and women, it's just going to fall down all over the place.


How do you describe all of that process? It's a mix of the words. They're imperfect because we just haven't really fully experienced all these weird things that are happening to us and about to happen.

The technologist is just kind of creeping along and just sort of outpacing the conversation, but not as dramatically as we're just kind of shrugging our shoulders. We're trying to catch up with this weird language, and it's not great.


Greg Hurwitz

There's a process by which subcultures that are considered fringe or considered... Subculture is the wrong word. So see, here's an example of trying to talk and think where a lot of the words are wrong. That's okay. That's part of figuring it out.


Robert Hansen

That's why we're here.


Greg Hurwitz

But if you look at the black America negotiated its way with thundering moral authority to the center. They always were the center, but they negotiated their way in terms of their rights in humanity. I mean, John Lewis, Edmund Pettis Bridge, you know the training, you know how badass they were, that non-violent movement? They had training.


So much training of how to not respond. I mean, part of it was like to picture literally the young men beating them to picture them as little kids. Unbelievable. Just thundering moral authority to show the injustice of the laws, right? Gay community, Stonewall Harvey Milk, they survived an extermination event with grace and poise and adult moral leadership.


We're at this moment now where things are happening so rapidly and there's so many other perspectives in that it seems like we've lost the ability to have certain just basic and fundamental conversations. So, there's a lot of people who are concerned about kind of rapid onset gender dysphoria. Like, is it happening too fast? Is it happening with kids?


I had a discussion with Jordan Peterson, who's my dear and longtime friend about this because we were having a conversation about his tweets about Elliot Page that in part got him kicked off Twitter, which I was not a fan of the tweets and told him that in real time. Then we got to a certain point that enough of them had stacked up that he said, "Look, come play devil's advocate."


So, we kind of went at it. But one of the things I was thinking about this is, it's like, nobody would know what it's like to be trapped in the wrong body better than people who are trans people who have transitioned.

Like my godson. If you met him, he's his best purest self in that way. If you met him when he was a woman, it was always sort of like his fullest form is being a man. He's in that lane where to me it's just is undeniable. There should be some engagement over that.


I mean, it's not like trans people, though some of the vocal voices are perceived as such, but there can be more conversations about literally we don't want to have a wave of kids having an alterable hormonal change that can't be reversed if then some of them are starting to have regrets and things that are later.


Trans community, there are members of that community who are equally concerned about that. But the way that this topic has become bifurcated in discourse is sort of it's everything or nothing. There's not been a negotiation or discussion or anything with America to determine what are the ground rules of this?


Is it really that no one can say anything about this topic ever whatsoever? Or is it that it should all be shunned and it should be taken down and everybody who's trans is a personality disorder. Which is with some of the view of the right. As with everything that's complicated, it's immensely complicated.


Robert Hansen

Yeah. Just radiance.


Greg Hurwitz

If we're not able to even discuss it and use words, how does anyone expect us to get anywhere? So, I see so much of the culture, and this is from both sides.


Again, it's like barking and yapping at the perimeter to make sure we can't even get on the fertile ground to have conversations that are legitimate. That's a kind of mind control, that's kind of what I noticed. How are we inoculating people to outside sources of information?


Robert Hansen

So, everybody's inbox or playing in their own lane.


Greg Hurwitz

Right. One of the first things cults does is they inoculate you to outside information.


Robert Hansen

So, how do you work this? I know you said you had some political campaigns that you sort of self-financed. I don't know how to phrase it exactly.


Greg Hurwitz

I just do pro bono.


Robert Hansen

Yeah. It was advertisements, right? You worked on some advertising?


Greg Hurwitz

Yeah. I did some advertising at a commercial.


Robert Hansen

So, how did you use that sort of, your ability to story tell and kind of work across the aisle or communicate your point more effectively? What sort of tools did you use to do that?


Greg Hurwitz

Well, the first thing I did was I hired a lifelong Republican to do all the fact checking. Look, I'm not claiming I did all this perfectly, but I did 200 commercials with a team of amazing, amazing people and talent.


Robert Hansen

I thought the number was like two or three or something.


Greg Hurwitz

We did 200 in the five months up to the 2020 election. And work with a lot of candidates.


Robert Hansen

If you want something done, give it to a busy person. Holly cow.


Greg Hurwitz

It was a bit like that. But I also had some creative geniuses working with me in Hollywood and some amazing people.


But the most successful commercial that we ran was I did Reagan, City On a Hill speech and I just showed Trump doing the opposite to almost everything it was. At the very end, a Chiron just came up and it said, "Has your party left you?" For me it's like, that's a fair ad, right? It's fair commercial.


Some people will say, "No, this is right where I want party to be." Okay. Commercial didn't speak to you. I think that was a good faith fairer argument to make and to show. To give people a view to see how far have things come afield.


Certainly see that in aspects for the Democrats. Just to me it's less ascendant within the actual political party. It's more so in the culture. That's 5,000 different rabbit holes we could run down. I'm not making any grand claims that won't need to bear a lot of cabinets.


Robert Hansen

I mean, what happened when that launched?


Greg Hurwitz

It was incredibly effective. I think it's one of the most effective ads of the whole cycle when we tested it.


Robert Hansen

Effective with whom though, specifically?


Greg Hurwitz

Moving voters.


Robert Hansen

From the right to the left?


Greg Hurwitz

Yeah. Or from the center to the left. Or collecting country club Republicans or libertarians or conservatives or evangelicals or Spanish speaking conservatives. Anyone.


Robert Hansen

But what kind of negative feedback did you get from your own party? Because you were definitely going off the reservation, weren't you?


Greg Hurwitz

To quote Reagan as any kind of an ideal. But some people are furious about that. Furious of his handling of AIDS. Furious of his handling of other stuff. But it's like, look, are we going to exist in the real world? For me increasingly, I'm like, I don't care as much about language and permission structures. What I care about are people's intentions and what the outcomes are. I've had to get really oriented towards outcomes.


One of the things I say was when President Trump was elected, I foresaw a version of events that could lead to January 6. That was something I could just feel. That there was a direction that things were moving that were terrible. A couple of my closest friends, one of my best friends, evangelical Christian, voted for Trump two times. He's someone who I love. This is a 25 year friendship.


I don't get to just decide that with that one act, he's an evil person who has nothing that's worth saying. I saw myself as a canary for a particular coal mine of ways we could go wrong. I can't get to just tell him that he's an ignorant canary from an ignorant coal mine. Not with people I'm close to. I have a lot of people I'm close to all around the political spectrum. Jordan is not even that outrageously right.


Robert Hansen

He started on the left.


Greg Hurwitz

Right. Jordan is like an outlaw biker. That's what Jordan should be. He's amazing. It's like we also know what to do I think. A lot of the thing was for a lot of the party in the press to just scream at people who voted for Donald Trump and tell them that they're stupid and ignorant. It’s like what happens with anybody. If you have a kid who you're raising, and you tell them all the time that they're stupid and lazy, how do you think they're going to wind up?


I think the same thing is true across the aisle. Republicans have been screaming at Democrats that they're unhinged socialists forever. We're yelling, you're fascists, you're socialists. You're fascists. You are socialists. Let's say that there's anything to the fact that we can stitch the fabric of our culture and understanding together in a pattern way based on where we put our attention and how we label the things that we see. That’s what we do in politics too. There's this quickening. It's so funny. I came here to talk about my books. Now what's happening is…


Robert Hansen

Well, we skipped around a lot. That’s what we definitely talked about earlier.


Greg Hurwitz

But we should just keep going wherever the conversation goes.


Robert Hansen

I do want to get to your book because I think it's relevant.


Greg Hurwitz

We can talk whichever way the conversation goes. I was just kidding. Because I'm like, really we have now hit every conceivable issue.


Robert Hansen

That's actually believe it or not, what this show is really about. Getting people to talk about what's really on their mind. We're in the strike zone. I actually am curious. Do you pass these ideas through this network of friends? I know you've been mentioned with the IDW for instance and Jordan. Is there a cadre of people who you pass these ideas through? Am I a crack? Is this going to land well? You mentioned this one lifelong Republican friend.


Greg Hurwitz

Yeah, I have people all over. I'm rarely in a room where I'm surrounded with people who agree with me. I'm often moving from way different corners. I just did an Exodus seminar with the Daily Wire. That's Ben Shapiro's networks. Jordan Peterson and Dennis Prager, Ben Shapiro, Jonathan Pageau who is a brilliant, I think, Russian Orthodox icon carver.


Then two amazing scholars of philosophy and theology from Cambridge. James Orr, Douglas Headley, Oz Guinness there who is evangelical intellectual. It was an amazing seminar. Steven Blackwood. Larry Arnn was there from Hillsdale. A lot of seriously intense conservative firepower. A lot of brilliance at the table.


Robert Hansen

Were they happy to have you?


Greg Hurwitz

They were really happy to have me. But I was very clearly, which one doesn't belong. But what was amazing is we're talking about Exodus. I was looking at it. There's all these stories we spent a lot of time on. It was a very successful event for Daily Wire. A lot of my different communities are like, “What are you doing? How is that something you're doing and engaging with?” But you know, it was this amazing opportunity.


One of the things I always say when people question that is, imagine being friends with Jordan Peterson, and being so limited in your imagination that you would seek to agree with him on everything. How boring would that be to have? My ideas that I have maintained have been steel tested pretty well by a lot of people. If I have a disagreement with Jordan, I better make sure things are bolted down to the ground pretty well. I'd like to think vice versa. We have a lot of give and take.


Robert Hansen

I get the impression you're similar in one way. You both like a fight. Not necessarily mean spirited fight but a fair fight.


Greg Hurwitz

I think the thing is, and this is increasingly true I think where Jordan is. He got tied to a cactus and just kicked in the nuts for six straight years. 

It's brutal. He elicited and drew and had upon him the absolute worst aspects of the left. It becomes very hard. Because then you become in this feedback loop. You see this a lot with people on left and right. It is that if you pick a fight, you're seeing all the worst elements of this other side. It gets hard to differentiate as a monolith. But Jordan's predominant interest is in what the truth is. He's actually an exceptional listener. The fact that he even had me on to do that.


Robert Hansen

It is brave.


Greg Hurwitz

Oh, yeah. Who would do that? Invite someone on just to be like…


Robert Hansen

Come and punch me.


Greg Hurwitz

Also we're not going to range into, and he handled it with a ton of grace. Good on him for doing that.


Robert Hansen

You did go after him too. I saw that episode you. You didn't hold back.


Greg Hurwitz

He asked me not to. That's a lot of trust and a lot of grace. I don't know many people who do that. I don’t know anyone who would do that. But so with this Exodus summer, I'll just give you an example. One of the things that was fascinating, some of these unbelievable scholars, I'm out of my depth a bit. I was raised in a secular Jewish Bay Area background. But there's all these amazing stories even as we're just peeling through Exodus.


One of the stories that I love that was this microcosm. Jonathan Pageau explained that. He's really a pretty interesting mind, an interesting character. But there's this episode where Miriam who's Aaron sister, when Moses decides to marry an Ethiopian woman, take a second Ethiopian wife when they're in the desert. She's like, “You can't marry an Ethiopian.” She comes on all angry. I think it's fair to read in the text that it's a racist response because Ethiopian wife.


One of these great jokes of the Old Testament. God comes down and turns her Alabaster snow white where she's just glowing. A ridiculous version of it. Then orders that she's kicked out of the camp for seven days after what she can finally come back in. What that represents is that it is demanding too much pureness. If you think of the left is going to arise too much hybridization, that's what gargoyles are that guard the entrance to things right there. The monster that is too much openness. Too much otherness.

But the problems of the right when it goes off course is too much pureness. One race, one America. There's this amazing moment where the too much pureness gets scorned and derided and punished for it. That was really interesting to me. Another aspect that for me was really eye opening for the studies was after Moses strikes the rock twice when he's told not to. God comes down and says, “You won't enter the Promised Land now.” Everyone from his generation basically dies. Doesn't get to enter the Promised Land. Only two people do. Joshua, and Caleb. Caleb is not an Israelite. 50% of the people who enter the Promised Land are outsiders.


It's really interesting that within the body of obviously, what is a foundationally, traditionalist, foundational book for Western society in the world, there's all these aspects of integrating the other. Of dealing with, there's pertinence to this. If you can understand where that argument is, and where they're off course, all of a sudden, you can have different conversations with people, let's say from faith communities who are arriving at discussions around immigration.


Or different social policies with a different texture and nuance and perspective. One of the things I really discovered from that was, I think in so many ways, our secular world, and this is an imperfect analogy. But I think in a lot of ways, our secular world is coming unhooked from the symbolic world. With symbolic, I'm including religion. But I don't mean that in derogatory fashion. I mean our math culture. People who tend to think in symbols.


Robert Hansen

Which have a lot of epistemological background, and foundational stuff.


Greg Hurwitz

Right. If you're trying to assess Donald Trump from a secular perspective, there's a whole bunch of arguments that make no sense. But symbolically, if you're that guy who is working on the assembly line, let's say, he was this awful instrument of truth who moved through the culture and smash things and expressed certain toxins to the surface. But also expressed certain truths to the surface and laid bare a lot of corruptions in part by embodying them so boldly that they became undeniable.


But if you can't read something that's going on in a different current. I keep thinking about, well, where would we be as a country if Hillary Clinton had won and it was just four more years of another Clinton? Another Bush. I voted for Hillary Clinton. It wasn't even a close decision for me. But at the end of this, are we in a different place than we would have been had we just continued the same trajectory of this $50 trillion going from the bottom 90 to the top 1%?


Now everything is smashed up and broken. But sometimes when you unshackle from tyranny, you don't go right to the Promised Land. You have to go out and wander out in the desert for a bunch of years and figure it out. That’s the only way you're going to get anywhere. I think we're in that process. The good news is, I think there's some signs that we're waking up from it. The question is going to be, can we figure that out?


Can we figure out that instead of tearing each other to pieces, we need to use all the resources across all the different communities in America to get shoulder to shoulder to stand up in a way that we can compete on the world stage effectively as AI is going to come in and start to take over whole disciplines.


Robert Hansen

Back to, would you say Michigan was the guy who made that comment? I think it is like traders. A lot of traders, they're like, well, there's this thing. It's growing at 5% per year. It's just pretty stable. They do not like those types of trades. I mean, they just don't. They like volatility. They like things moving around really rapidly. Because at least in volatility, there is some chance for something to occur.


That's really what I think Trump represented to a ton of people. It is like, at least I'll have a chance. He will upend the board. I'm not going to be the last anymore. I'll be somewhere in the middle. I think that concept resonates with a lot of people.


Greg Hurwitz

Also we need different people for different phases of society. For me, much of what Trump stood for and represented were things that I am vehemently opposed to. But whatever role he played in my estimation, whoever is coming next, whether a Democrat or Republican, you don't want to just continue that role of massive disruption. Now we've smashed up a lot of things. We've laid bare a lot of awful truths. There's a lot of toxins that have been expressed to the surface. Now what are we going to do? We're going to keep doing this? We want to do this in 2026 and 2028 and 2030?


Robert Hansen

A lot of people do, is the thing.


Greg Hurwitz

I think a lot of people who make money want to. I think a lot of people feel shackled to their news cycles, stuck on their phones, are miserable, and are told that the only way forward is to fight with everything you have against a faceless evil opposition. Or else the fabric of America will come undone. People don't love living that way.


Robert Hansen

Living in Austin, I have a lot of both very left and very right friends. Strangely because there's not that many right-leaning people in Austin despite the fact we're in Texas. You have to go slightly outside the city limits. But watching them talk about each other is very interesting. You know it's always they, referring to the other. They can't come up with a nice way to phrase it. Largely, they have never interacted with each other in the last, let's say year. Maybe they went to a store. And they happen to be side by side for 10 seconds.


Greg Hurwitz

Or four years. Or 10 years.


Robert Hansen

I mean, they're very separate people. Their hobbies are separate. Where they even shop tends to be slightly different.


Greg Hurwitz

We saw this in politics when Newt Gingrich started to recommend that Congress people live at home more than in DC. There's a bunch of reasons for that decision that aren't worth going into. But one of the things that was lost in DC was people seeing each other at restaurants, having kids on the same little league team, and seeing kids in church or in synagogues or mosques. Well, it wasn't mosques back then. But people having these different sub communities. That's what knits us together.


It's so often not. If we narrow everything to the political and then we find all the things that we disagree with within the political, that's part of how that process starts. We've been just doing that, and doing that and doing that. But it's really important that we start to cross people over. I've been doing a lot of work in that too, of community building and having different kinds of conversations. In fact, I've been working a lot with an organization called Millions of Conversations that's all about having people from opposing parts of, not opposing even, just different communities, to talk in ways that feel real or more authentic or more engaging.


To try and rebuild communities from the ground up to meet the changes from the top down so that we don't have this. We did a project in Grundy County. It was one of the first task forces. It is the least affluent County in Tennessee. I was there two weeks before the midterms, trying to figure out, they have a lot of issues with housing and other stuff. Not one person mentioned Trump or Biden, Congress or the Senate, January 6, or immigration. It literally was, I don't have enough gas in my car to drive 35 miles to get my approval for food stamps so that I can keep getting food stamps for my kid. There's no public transportation.


The extent to which left behind communities are left behind and don't care at all about national politics that seem all consuming, it's just staggering. If you spend the time and go into some of those communities and talk to people. Then we have a big judgment on them. Those idiots are voting against their interest. Their interests. Their interests. We think we know what their interests are. We think that their interests have been represented.


Robert Hansen

When’s the last time you talked to him?


Greg Hurwitz

When's the last time that decisions had been made at a federal level from DC that did anything for a lot of people. If you can't understand that, and be working to fix it, there's a lot of good candidates and people out who are doing that too.


Robert Hansen

That to me seems like where the left could absolutely clean the floor if they wanted to. If you just focused on that issue of really reaching out. Not just a token response like, hey, we have a black representative. No. But really actually do something for them.


Greg Hurwitz

There's some amazing members of the house in particular. Dean Phillips is fantastic. Elissa Slotkin, Haley Stevens. There's a crew of people who are very focused on, I don't care about the partisan. What is the outcome going to be? How do I help the people who I'm representing? I have a lot of hope of people who are rising in the party right now who I know and trust and have a lot of faith.


Robert Hansen

I know at one point you were talking, people should stop talking about AOC. They should be talking about other candidates. What was the impetus there? Is it just to spread the wealth? Talk about candidates that wouldn't otherwise get in. What was the thinking there?


Greg Hurwitz

Look, AOC, it's amazing. It's so clearly that she was built up by this massive, there were studies done on this to make her the Boogeyman. It's hysterical the extent to which she is featured and people are terrified and undone by her. She advocated the Green New Deal. Guess how many votes that got in the Senate?


Robert Hansen

I can't imagine.


Greg Hurwitz

Zero.


Robert Hansen

She didn't even vote for it?


Greg Hurwitz

No, the Senate. Not a single Democratic senator voted for that bill. She's not some immense rising power within the party. But obviously, there's a lot to be done if you target her for a lot of reasons. But then everyone just forgets. It seems like there is a lack of perspective on it. I thought it was really funny. Except it was so effective that Republicans were terrified and tearing their hair out whenever she did something that was a stunt. I view her doing the stunt the same way that Bannon would.


You poke the algorithms and watch them roar. It's reactive. People who understand how the system works, how to play the system. How to see how people are acting in different things. But it's also, she's a young, bright woman in a very, very liberal district. She's basically one of the most liberal members I think of the entire house. The biggest Caucus in the House are the new democratic coalition. It's like pro capitalist, moderate.


These are all people whose views are overwhelmingly matching what 85% of Americans think. That's the biggest Caucus in the House. All this focus went to her as opposed to saying, look, she's much further left than I would prefer. She's in a district where she can incubate various ideas. Maybe one out of 10 works. Maybe they won't. Maybe she'll say a bunch of stuff. We're big enough to contain that. I don't have to lose my mind over that.


We can hear from it. But the amount of real legislative power that she had was virtually nothing. But it was built into this enormous point of contention. Actually, I co-wrote an op-ed with Jordan about this. I was listing all the things that the new class of 2018 had done. It was all the Bipartisan bills. The first six or seven bills were all super reasonable. Lowering prescription prices. Everything was bipartisan. Saying, but all the focus is over here, no one's actually paying attention.


To say a bill achieves a moderate yet significant small step forward when it comes to some issue, is not going to grab a headline. Everything is about headlines and money and eyeballs and stickiness. When they ran the article, they ran it with a picture of AOC. Because that's how you get somebody to click on the article.


Robert Hansen

It missed the point.


Greg Hurwitz

Also, is she really that much of a threat to all of us that we can't conceivably have a discussion that’s sane? We've all gone to school with somebody who has views that are further left or further right. We can figure out how to accommodate them without losing our minds over it or turning them into the face of the devouring feminine. I mean the Republicans use her to terrify people.


Robert Hansen

Absolutely. I was curious. I know you have a lot of thoughts on this. If you had to horse-trade and pick one political, call it a cause or an ideology from each side. You said, we'll give up X to get X. But you have to give this up. If you had to make a deal like that, what do you think would be the good deal to make?


Greg Hurwitz

This gets everybody angry. There's nobody who will not be angry by my answer. Thanks for the trouble. Is it too late to not do the interview?


Robert Hansen

We could stop right now.


Greg Hurwitz

I think that for me, the biggest point is that the, I'm going to say the left. These terms don't have much meaning. You know what I mean. For everybody else. The riots that accompanied in Portland, in Seattle, in Atlanta, in Austin, caused $2 billion in damage. The most expensive riots in the history of the United States of America.


The actual protests were 99% peaceful. A lot of this stuff that happened in the black communities, Black Lives Matter protests even, most of them were peaceful. But we had a lot of these tourists coming in. Like kids, Antifa, smashing stuff up. There's a lot of videos of black members that cannot be seen. Dude, get out. Where are you going to be tomorrow when there's wreckage and things need to be rebuilt and the cops are all pissed? Where are you going to be? Because you're not going to be dealing with it here.


Keisha Lance Bottoms came out, who I think is spectacular, and gave a speech. I don't know if people saw that. I think it's the most powerful moral speech that I've heard politically in the last five years that night of the riots and got exactly dead on the point. She was also with a rapper called Killer Mike. He goes Killer Mike. They were just drawing the lines. You can't just break stuff and burn stuff down. There's a reason. You can't endorse a position of chaos and lawlessness at the mayoral level as was done in Portland.


They were there saying, oh, this is a law free zone. It is like the Summer of Love. It's like people are raped, killed, businesses shut down. That was horrific. I will tell you when I sent an email out to ask all Democrats to disavow that in real time, you know who did? Eric Swalwell. The first one who came out and did that. I got a special place for people who took positions when they were really hard. That was so coded over. People were so gaslit that people on the left side of this political spectrum have no idea how horrific that was for people watching it to see cities burning.


Then seeing officials not make any distinction, which were easy enough to make between the outrage over police brutality. About these instances of police brutality that we saw that were horrific beyond compare. There were atrocities. And everything else that happened. An inability to draw a line with any of it. That created, one of my colleagues I work with is a woman called Simone Lee, who's brilliant. She teaches a course on unity with Jon Meacham at Vanderbilt. She's a mediator. She's one of Desmond Tutu’s protégées and mediated the Syrian civil war. Just extraordinary woman. She always talks about the authorizing environment for violence.


I was watching that thinking, man, if you're going to permit all this and snow this over with the media, you have no idea what this is going to lead to if you're going to permit that. For me, that was the seesaw to January 6. Now, January 6 has a lot of differences. The minute that you pivot to that, a lot of people go, wait a minute, they weren't trying to subvert democracy. There's different charges. Some of this is federal. Some isn't. I agree that January 6 for me was a horrific event. I think that part of it is that Democrats, let's just say anyone in the left, anyone in the right, again, the terms don't have much meaning anymore.


I think that it's the role that was played in creating an authorizing environment for violence. Which I'm not saying that, the Democrats were not, because Democrats did not endorse the riots by and large at the federal level. Almost none of them did. But they didn't speak out vehemently against that. But it wasn't something that crept all the way up through the political party as January 6 did and has, I believe for Republicans. But nonetheless, they didn't speak up. They didn't draw a line then. I think that those two things are of a piece.


I think that if the left were willing to acknowledge that they had adopted certain tactics, or generated certain tactics that contributed to this out of a belief that we have to do anything. We must do anything. That's the dangerous phase. It's so dangerous now we have to do anything. We got to do something. That in some ways that the culture made that permissible and praised that. For me, for the right, it's the big lie. It's the fact that the claim that Trump won the election. I think the vast majority of people know that he didn’t. I think that comes from a different place.


I think what that is, is a lot of people, if you drill down, there's a lot of people who just believe it or want to believe that despite however many court cases. Even from judges who Trump himself appointed. But I think that's another symbolic thing. One of the things I say about Trump is he lies all the time but he's fundamentally honest. Because you always know what he's thinking, where he's coming from. I think lot of people's reaction to that was they felt like everything in the entirety of American culture lined up against them from day one in a way that they hadn't for all their presidents.


Though there's a caveat about how I believe that happened in certain regards that were powerful but less widespread culturally against Barack Obama so that the election being stolen is almost like a metaphor. Because they just feel like it was. They're willing to default to that point. But I think that that message is something that the Republicans have to get over, not get over.


Robert Hansen

If you had to horse-trade.


Greg Hurwitz

This is the horse-trade. Guess what, threat to democracy in terms of overthrowing election results that everybody knows to be a lie. We're seeing that more and more and more. Put that in the rear view. They're going, yeah. There wasn't much accountability back then with this other thing. I think those are the two pieces that I watched as the escalation was happening and could foresee that.


Robert Hansen

I don't think anyone's going to get angry with it. I think a lot of people will get angry but I don't think for a good reason. I think that is a very well-reasoned answer. A little known fact. This show for being as small as it is, was actually referenced in the January 6 report. We had somebody specifically come on and talk about being in Trump's White House the week before.


They were talking about a bunch of things including doing rallies. It was referenced. When I talked about that a little bit online, one of the comments I got was this guy. He’s like, “Wait, so you support the Jan Sixers?” How did one equate to the other? I had somebody on my show who may have had some input on it. But what does that have to do with me?


Greg Hurwitz

That's the game. You're guilty. Are you now or have you ever been? You talk to someone who disagrees with you. That's what's so amazing. It's like, wait a minute. Any version of that argument to me is so insane. There's two Desmond Tutu quotes that I love. One of them is, he says, ‘If you want peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.’ Second one is, ‘An enemy is a friend waiting to be made.’ To me, they're like bookends. For me, there's so much to be gained by talking to people who I disagree with even vehemently. I've done calls with military members who are hard and fast members of QAnon.


To go out and talk to people. Number one, you can differentiate them from a monolith. Who thinks what at what level? Where's the humanity? Where can you find connections? That's one approach to it. The other approach of where am I wrong? I had a conversation with a Republican Congressman who's really, really bright. We're talking about something around infrastructure regulations. He goes, “You liberals think that every time we roll back regulation, it's because we want to dump toxins in the river.” I just laughed.


I was like, “You know what, that's exactly what” I think. Literally, that's what I think every time I see a newspaper article. I've never explored it past that. It was just so funny because it was so right. Then I was like, okay. Then Jordan and I had a conversation. We did a podcast with Rick Geddes, who's a brilliant guy on infrastructure. Really started to dig in. We did a two hour podcast to explore the issue around it. I was like, God, there's so much. Obviously, there's a need for certain regulations.


But also it takes, I think six years to build an on-ramp in New York. We couldn't do the highway system today probably. There's all these other problems that I hadn't significantly considered or differentiated internally based on the perspective that I come to. Again, my big five personality traits, I have my family background. I have my city that I came from and out of. We bring all of our perspective to things. But it was so funny, it was just so accurate.


You always can find out what's wrong. Then there's times where I've had arguments just drilled down. My head's filled with gauze for three days. But then I come back to where then I'll have arguments with people who I agreed with previously let's say, who are like, you're brainwashed because I'm still embodying that other state of something. But then I can come back to my opinions that I have, but with a bunch of adjustments that make them a lot stronger.


Robert Hansen

You got to sharpen that sword.


Greg Hurwitz

That's right. Then let's say it's the worst case scenario. That there's no compromise. There's no negotiation. There's no differentiation. There's nothing to be gained.


Robert Hansen

Well, I haven’t talked to anybody at that point.


Greg Hurwitz

But part of that is like well, then you have Sun Tzu as a last resort, which is Know thy enemy. Holding up and cutting people off and being afraid to be combative, or interactive in the world of ideas to me, there's no level at which that makes any sense. It just fails at every level. Just real quick, part of it is, it's weird we're sitting here talking mostly about politics, and I'm on a book tour. But I think part of what it is I'm not a pundit. I'm not even that interested in politics really.


I'm interested in psychology. I was watching certain trends happen. To be dead honest with you, part of why I started to get involved in politics before 2015, I thought democracy would be okay without me. Which is a lie. One of my friends says. I was watching people get inoculated against new sources. I thought, that's inoculation against outside sources of information. But we're going to be in trouble.


Robert Hansen

Social media really tries to amplify that inoculation as much as possible by putting in filter bubbles.


Greg Hurwitz

That's right, for sure. But I think part of why I've had some small measure of success in these excursions is that fundamentally, I'm not that interested in politics. I'm not a politician. I'm not a pundit. I'm always talking to people who know more about this than I do. 


Fundamentally, I'm a novelist. When I'm talking to people, I interviewed porn stars and demolition breachers, and outlaw bikers. Good on the gamut. I like talking to people with really weird, twisty brains, sometimes really dark.


A lot of them are really different. I don't want to write a bunch of characters who are like me. In some ways that training of having different conversations with people that don't make a lot of sense to a lot of other people. To be honest with you, my rolodex in my own community is really varied and far flung. A lot of amazing, twisty, wicked people here and there in places. Part of that is that, I'm sure this is part of it for you as a world class hacker. It's like you're swimming in very different waters.


Robert Hansen

They are similar. Actually, this is the point I was going to make. There's a part of our industry that's very similar to the suppressive force. You shouldn't be talking to any bad guys. You should only be focused on the good stuff. It's like a police officer not talking to informants. It just doesn't make sense. I pivoted the exact opposite direction because I ignore people's advice.


I started talking to click fraud groups and BlackHat SEOs and malware groups, and anybody I could talk who would talk to me. They're really excited to talk to somebody who's willing to talk to them from the other side. Well so what's working? What's not? Is this happening? Is that not happening? By the end of it, I became one of the foremost experts on actually how they think about attacking us.


It's actually quite useful in all kinds of different ways. It's the same thing. If you're not willing to reach across the aisle, you have no idea that they're never going to use this tool. Because it's not going to make the money. Why even defend against the thing that they'll never ever use?


Greg Hurwitz

That's right. People tend to forget the ultimate goal isn't to win. This country is 50-50. We just are. I don't think anyone wants live in America that one side dominates and subjugates the other. The country is going to split apart before that happens.


Robert Hansen

The founding fathers wanted it to be that way. They want it to be separate.


Greg Hurwitz

That's right. We're 50-50. We're married. It's a marriage. That's it. Conservatives and liberals. What are we going to do? In a lot of ways, if the emphasis is constantly on winning the next thing, or the world is going to end. Winning the next thing or the world is going to end. We have to start to lift our gaze higher than the immediate next election horizon to what are the transcendent values.


Robert Hansen

Is there a way to use that metaphor to buy the other side flowers? I mean, how do we reach across the aisle in a positive way?


Greg Hurwitz

We're seeing a lot more of it. Two people who are immensely associated with partisan politics, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, are actually working together pretty closely now in a way that is unthinkable. We are seeing more of that. We're seeing some awareness. I think the infrastructure bill is bipartisan.


I think that Biden, I know a lot of people are displeased with him from the right. But he has shown a willingness to work and engage in bipartisan fashion in a way that's different from recent presidents. I think we're seeing a lot of signs of this. The question is, is reality going to catch up to us? Reality has to catch up at some point.


Robert Hansen

I think technology is helping in this regard. It's actually allowing more and more tools to analyze what people are really doing and highlight and focus on things that could be changed.


Greg Hurwitz

It just can't keep going this way. It's not going to work. It's not sustainable.


Robert Hansen

We will lose to other countries for sure.


Greg Hurwitz

Oh, yeah. They're delighted. The idiotic fights we're having. You think Xi and Putin aren't delighted that we're tearing ourselves to pieces over this minutiae. It's a delight. The more distracted we are, the less we're paying any attention to how that $50 trillion is going from the bottom 90 to the top one. It just keeps going. Went even more during the pandemic. If we keep screaming at each other down here, we're paying no attention to what's happening up there.


If this wealth gap keeps rising and keep spreading, we're going to have some real problems. That doesn't mean that the answer is socialism. It doesn't mean that we turn everything upside down. But it means that if we're going to talk about a free market, we better really talk about lobbyism, and monopoly and regulatory capture and all these processes. I live in a world that's capitalist. A free market capitalist society to me, there's no other system that's going to work better. It's got to have competition and innovation.


If we don't have that as a form of value that we can agree on from both sides, everyone just loses. It's not working. At some point, the people who are winning, right, making the most money, even for them, it's like, don't you want to be winning in five years? Or 10? Or 15? Or 20? Do you want your kids and your grandkids to inherit a world where things are making sense, and everyone doesn't have to live behind gates with armed guards like we're a third world country?


There are certain ways that we need to figure out how to invest in and how to enrich and how to lift up our most valuable asset, which is always going to be people.


Robert Hansen

Can we talk about your book already? Otherwise, I'm never going to get you to come back. I feel like we got to do that. Please tell us what it is. How'd you come up with this idea?


Greg Hurwitz

Orphan X is my thriller series. You have a lot of friends, as we talked about, in the SpecOps community. I was always interested in the black programs they were working in and how they're funded. Is the money threaded through Department of Interior? All the weird trickery. I thought it'd be really cool if there was a black program that was talking about power and talking about corrupt power that wanted to take kids out of foster homes. Kids who no one would mess and train them up to be assassins who then can go commit acts that the US is not allowed to commit.


Robert Hansen

It is every kid's dream, they want, someone please kidnap me and turn me into a spy. Turn me into a world class assassin.


Greg Hurwitz

Evan Smoak, my main character who's orphan X is taken out of the foster home. He was the smallest scrawniest kid. Jack Jones, who was a CIA handler, picked him because he watched him getting banged up on the playground. He said you might have gotten knocked down the most times. But he also got up the most times. Iteration of the great Floyd Patterson quotation. This is all before the first book starts.


This is just the backstory. But I want to just tell you the characters. One of the things Jack says when he takes him, he trains him in SciOps. He never meets other orphans. He trains him in psyops, hand to hand fighting, knife fighting, mixed martial arts, sniper, foreign etiquette, languages, culture because he has to be able to blend in in different places, military strategy, Sun Tzu philosophy. One of the things I think of Evan Smoak, he's a blue collar renaissance man.


The agency that preceded the CIA, they used to say that their ideal recruit is a PhD who could win a fistfight. It's that he's smart. But it's not to be erudite or be cerebral. It's to get shit done in the real world. When he's 12, one of the things that Jack tells him is, “The hard part won't be making you a killer. The hard part is going to be keeping you human.” For me, that's the key line around what's the whole series coalesces.


Because he's being trained to be an expendable weapon and do some horrific shit. But Jack also loves this kid. It's almost like Evans Achilles heel. Because if he was a true believer, as we were saying, it's so much easier to be a true believer.


Robert Hansen

Was the guy who kidnapped him an antagonists or protagonist? How are you writing him?


Greg Hurwitz

Jack, his handler, he is his father figure. But he also is his father figure in training him to do horrific things. But that's also the best thing that ever happened to me. He would be dead with a needle in his arm or in jail if he stayed in his East Baltimore foster home.


Robert Hansen

This sounds a little like a cult.


Greg Hurwitz

Basically, at a certain point, he's committing these executions as orphan X. But because his moral compass is intact, at a certain point, that staying human and being a killer, those are two trains on a collision course. He leaves. He flees the program. They're pursuing him. He goes off the radar. He lives in plain sight among ordinary people in a penthouse in the Wilshire Corridor. He has an encrypted phone line. People can call the phone line.


The number is 1855 to nowhere which you can call. You can see if he answers. He answers. Basically, it's for people in terrible need who are being terrorized by another person or group of people. They're desperate. They have nowhere to turn that any conventional avenues will help them. He basically becomes a pro bono assassin to execute those missions on behalf of people while still having to stay off the radar of the government that created him and turned him into this wolf who can hunt other wolves. That's the backdrop of the character.


Robert Hansen

I remember you talking at one point in one of the podcasts I listened to about a scene in an elevator. Where he's trying to hide how messed up he actually is while the normal daily grind of people getting in the elevator and bothering him with the boring aspects of life. Can you explain that?


Greg Hurwitz

One of the things that I do that's really fun in the series is Evans, he's an archetypal character like the ones I grew up with and loved. Bond and Bourne and Jack Reacher. But we never get to see James Bond go home. One of things I wanted to do in this quest, the thriller series is really about the process of becoming human. For Evan, I wanted him to be living among ordinary people in the real world where you and I live.

He'll be on a mission. Let's say he gets his arm cut. He's bleeding out. 


He's tourniquet it with a sock. He'll get dragged into an elevator that's packed with residents of Castle heights. That's the residential tower he lives in. There's the elderly Jewish woman who lives downstairs who's yelling at him that his car is leaking oil even though it just got shot up. Then he gets dragged into an HOA meeting where he has to vote on the carpet pile as his phone's dinging on his knee because there's a cartel guy who wants to execute him and he's trying to cover up the blood.


This is a guy who's perfectly at home groting a human trafficker in a Muscovite banya. But he's undone when he has to make small talk at the mail slots. We never see Jason Bourne have an awkward encounter with the single mom who lives downstairs who he has chemistry with. He is see-sawing between these worlds. I think of him in a lot of ways that it's like he's outside of society. He's got his face up to the glass. He's looking at these ordinary people leading ordinary lives that he can never lead. But he can at least protect them and preserve that for them.


That's one of the templates that's a lot of fun in the series. As he started to develop different relationships over time. He's very, very slow to trust. But the last orphan is where that all explodes. It's the eighth book in the series. You can read any of the books. You can jump on at any point with them. New readers, it always resets and is a contained story. But in this one, this isn't just the story of where his past catches up to him. This one is where his past overtakes him.


The President of United States, no lesser power than the President of the United States unleashes this massive manhunt. I mean there are helicopters. There's a dragnet. There's this whole thing. Evan, basically Orphan X, the world's greatest assassin, government's been after him forever. He doesn't just know where the bodies are buried. He put most of them in the ground. They've long determined that his head's not safe enough to remain attached to his shoulders.


He's bound, gagged, high value target treatment and is brought in before the President of the United States. She tells him, look, there's one last mission that she wants him to do. He can make a choice. There's essentially this very eccentric billionaire, who's a super intense power player master manipulator, has accrued all kinds of power. He throws these giant Great Gatsby partys in the Hamptons on Billionaires Row where he puts on display every version of sin.


He invites Supreme Court justices and congressmen and media news moguls. But he's got cameras hidden all through the house. He's got this little black book. He can swing elections. He can swing Supreme Court decisions. He can move votes. He can trade stuff to noncompliant nations. The President has determined him as a billionaire. We've seen this. There's billionaires who all of a sudden who have as much power as nation states. How do you deal with them?


Robert Hansen

Oligarchs, for instance.


Greg Hurwitz

That's right. Here and abroad. The President basically says, “Look, this guy is, he's too dangerous. He's got too much power. I need him removed which is an impossible mission. I need him executed. But also I need there to be no fingerprints.” There's only one assassin in the world who can do that. That's Evan Smoak.


His code has been that he will never ever commit another mission on behalf of what happens up here in the abstract realm. In politics and culture with all that corruption. He only does things aligned with his moral compass. He's given a choice. It's either your code or your life unless he can figure out a third way. That's the way of the orphan. That's what the book is about.


Robert Hansen

I know at one point, you mentioned that you brought in some of Jordan Peterson 12 Rules of Life. I don't know if it was the first book or one of the first books.


Greg Hurwitz

He's through the book. So Evan has his assassins 10 commandments. The first one is, assume nothing. The second one, which is the most popular, which has been like tattooed on all jewelry, and people quote it the most, how you do anything is how you do everything. He's got these 10 assassins commandments. Never kill a kid. Always play offense. The single mom who lives downstairs from him, she's a DA. He's got really good chemistry with her.


If she ever really knew who he was, she'd have to arrest him. She's got an eight year old kid. I wanted that kid to be raised with an alternative to the 10 assassins’ commandments if you were actually going to raise a kid in a more nurturing way. At the time, I had my undergraduate psychology professor for my undergraduate years named Jordan Peterson who I was quite friendly with. We've been close for a lot of years. He'd written this little Quora thing called 12 Rules for Life. He was just listing the roles.


I was like, this is cool. Some of these roles really make sense. This should be uncontroversial. I took these little rules that he had that had gotten a lot of attention because I thought they were amazing and resonance. He's got a way of getting to the matter. He's pretty amazingly and I just started populating them. Mia, who's the mom leaves them on post-its around for her kid. Two or three, before the book came out. All of a sudden was when he exploded into the Capital Jordan Peterson. He's a part of the DNA of the series in a way that's really amusing now before everything went.


Robert Hansen

That was truly before. That's so funny.


Greg Hurwitz

It was good, because before 12 rules came out, when he was working on that that was something that was really cool. Also, I got to be involved with the editing to work with him on that. But the ideas were incredible. Even then, it was this Quora post. It was already exploding. I just grabbed these rules and thought they'd be useful for the series. Turns out a few other people found them useful also.


Robert Hansen

And life. That's right.

I'm curious. How does all of this weave together for Greg? It is politics. It's cults. It's how to live your life. How much of that ends up in the book? Or is it you just edit a lot of little pieces together that you like then you have some place that you get this inspiration that comes from somewhere totally different?


Greg Hurwitz

I can't write the books from the top down. When I'm writing, I'm writing from my gut. I'm writing from my lizard brain. I'm not in my prefrontal cortex being, how do I integrate all these things? Because you want instinct to take over. That's the thing we talked about. Trying to assimilate that edge of the chaotic in a way. For me, it always just comes up with a story. It's like, boom, here's the story.


I want him captured. When he's captured, this book also deals with, he's pretty traumatized afterwards. He hasn't dealt with anything. He's never been captured, his body controlled again until he figures out what his next step is going to be. He's got to unstitch that. Then we have this character, Luke Devine, who is the billionaire. Who is floating above everything and pulling levers and mechanisms of power in a lot of ways.


That's what a lot of the waters I was swimming in, was observing and having conversations with people like him. It works its way in. But you never want as the author to be prevalent in the story. Story is always the thing. That's the most important. Within story, the characters is the thing that's most important. I think of plot as character and motion. But it turns out that these books as I continue to write them, Evan smoke evolves through the course of these books.


Robert Hansen

Are you evolving? Or is it the character?


Greg Hurwitz

It's both. I mean, Joan Didion has a quotation that I love. She said, “I write so I know what I think.” It's like we were saying with talking earlier. I probably said a bunch of things on this podcast that I would disagree with or choose to restate if we slow down enough. But part of what we're trying to do is not have everything slowed down so that it's ossified and fake language.


But talking is how we figure out what we think. For me writing is a lot of how I figure out what I think and what I'm working through. And when I'm in the best space, he's moving forward. The stories that are coming to me are moving forward in a way that they have keys to different locks within me. Then it's like, oh. In hindsight, that's why I'm writing this story. It's about all the stuff I was dealing with. But it only comes to me first as a story.


Robert Hansen

Talking to me is the first draft. Then you are like, “Wow, huh? I should not have said that.” Then you come up with your second draft.


Greg Hurwitz

Your metaphor for hacking for instance. That's so incisive. It's so helpful. That's a useful piece for me to think about with this. To be like, okay, well. Look, I have a hacker in the books, Joey Morales. She is a 16 year old Josephine Morales who becomes Evans highly unlikely charge in the third book. She's a genius. She's an amazing hacker. She drives him crazy. She was the last thing he wants to be saddled with but also has really connected him with what it means to be in connection because he just loves her.


He loves her. She calls him her uncle person. They've evolved this very special relationship. But that metaphor of hacking and needing to talk to people, needing to know what's happening. You need intelligence on the other side. It's good to have relationships on the other side too to anchor to. Because when shit goes down, you need to know who to call or who to ask. Maybe some people you disagree with on 90% of things you can call for help for 10% of things.


I've had some really unlikely people step up when I'm like, “Hey, there's these three ideas. I don't know which one works. Can you tell me which one you hate the least?” There's pieces like that. When you have anything that you keep and you file and you put in the blender of your brain. You're right. It is a rough draft. Talking is a rough draft.


Robert Hansen

Does this get turned into a movie or TV show? What's your plans? What do you want?


Greg Hurwitz

I've adapted it a few times. Hollywood development is…


Robert Hansen

I don't really know a whole lot about that. Walk me through it.


Greg Hurwitz

You just need lightning in an eyedropper. I've had two original movies made. The first one took me 18 years. The second one. We I co-wrote it with a friend Philip Eisner who wrote Event Horizon. Just a terrific screenwriter. We got Jason Momoa, attached two weeks before Aquaman came out. It's called Sweet Girl. It's on Netflix. There was a window to hit before he was in Justice League. We were literally shooting eight months later.


One took 18 years. One took eight months. I've adapted it. I had amazing actor attached. Lost him to another movie that he wrote, directed, starred in, produced, got the rights back, was playing with it in TV. I've had a lot of interesting talent circling. Then one of the things I realized was at a certain point, I was doing the adapting myself whether for the screenplay or for the TV pilot. I co-wrote a TV pilot with another writer, Derek Kolstad who wrote the John Wick series. Talented and lovely guy.


But one of things I realized as I got further and further along in the series was I can't back up and reset this and be in charge of both parallel universes. The books have carried so far forward that to reset and go, okay, well, the pilot is going to be based on the third book. But I needed to have reset from the first book. But I have a bunch of ideas from the sixth book. Then have that new universe carried forward with me at the helm is not a good idea.


For the last couple of years, I have the rights back. We get queries pretty much every week from directors and actors and producers. But I'm waiting to figure out. Just have somebody who I really trust where the creative DNA is there. Then I can give it to them because somebody has to take this series and have it be their own. That's what you want. Then I could be the executive producer let's say as a database for what it is. I've gotten a little more protective about it after selling it a few times and being around through the corridors of development in Hollywood.


Robert Hansen

Absolutely. Well, Greg, I would love to keep you but I know you got other things going. Maybe I can get you back at some point when you're passing through Austin. But I really appreciate you coming on the show. This is great.


Greg Hurwitz

Thanks for having me on. This is a fascinating conversation.


Robert Hansen

Thanks so much. How do people get the book? Where do they find it? Is it Amazon I'm assuming?


Greg Hurwitz

The book is everywhere. At Amazon, Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, audio book. Scott Brick, my audio reader, he's fantastic. You might hear his voice if you call 1855 to nowhere and Orphan X answers. It's anywhere and everywhere. The books are sold.


Robert Hansen

All right. Well, thanks so much for stopping by. I really appreciate it.


Greg Hurwitz

My pleasure.


Robert Hansen

All right. Good luck.

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