The Atlas Society Asks Sebastian Junger

July 08, 2021 01:03:10
The Atlas Society Asks Sebastian Junger
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The Atlas Society Asks Sebastian Junger
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Sebastian Junger is an award-winning international journalist, a #1 New York Times bestselling novelist, and acclaimed documentary filmmaker. His most recent book, Freedom, explores the concept of freedom as he and three friends spent most of a year walking the railroad tracks on the east coast. Other books include The Perfect Storm, War, and Tribe. He also co-directed Restrepo, a feature-length documentary about troops in Afghanistan as well as three other films about war and its impact. Junger founded and is the director of Vets Town Halls, events that provide vets with an opportunity to speak publicly about their experiences to create a better understanding between vets and their communities.

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Speaker 0 00:00:02 Hi everyone. And welcome to the 60th episode of the Atlas society asks. My name is Jennifer Anji Grossman. My friends know me as JAG. I'm the CEO of the Atlas society. We are the leading nonprofit organization, introducing young people to the literature and ideas of I'm Rand in creative ways, like our graphic novels and animated videos. Today, we are joined by one of my favorite authors, Sebastian younger, and before I even get into introducing our guest, I want to remind all of you who are watching us on zoom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. You can use the comment sections to type in your questions. Please make them short and take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to chat with Sebastian. Uh, Sebastian younger is the New York times best selling author of five books, tribe more, a death in Belmont fire. And of course the perfect storm. He is the co-director of the academy award nominated documentary Restrepo, which took home the grand jury prize at Sundance. His latest book freedom explores the tension between the two human drives for independence and community. And it is a really fascinating read juxtaposed against a journey that he took with three friends, including two Afghan war vets along the railroad lines of the east coast of the United States. Sebastian, welcome again. Thank you so much for joining us. Speaker 1 00:01:56 My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Speaker 0 00:01:58 So, uh, this is an athlete timed interview for your book. Uh, freedom. We just celebrated independence day, uh, this past weekend. How did you spend your independence day this year? Speaker 1 00:02:13 Well, um, I have two young, uh, children, two little girls age four and age one and a half. And we, you know, we all, we, the family sleeps together and we usually head off to bed whenever the girls get sleepy around nine or 10:00 PM. And by the time the fireworks were going off, I think I was sound asleep. I think we're all, we all were sound asleep. I've been in enough combat that fireworks will wake me up. Um, it's not my favorite time of year. Uh, and it didn't even wake me up. So I was pretty tired. Speaker 0 00:02:45 So th that's interesting, and I, I read a bit about your, your new family and I, and you have some, uh, strong views, which you are practicing in terms of how you're raising your children. A lot of them are based on your understanding of history and of a sort of evolutionary biology. So my question is when you and your children as a family, you sleep together, do they end up going to bed later or do you end up going to bed earlier? Speaker 1 00:03:18 Uh, I sort of got a little bit of both. I think. I mean, they, they, you know, the, the little one falls asleep, uh, she, she nurses and she falls asleep nursing usually around nine o'clock. Right. And, and the, and the older one lasts about another hour or so we read stories and things like that. And so my wife and the little one will go up to bed. It's not a bed. We sleep on a, uh, on a, on the floor, a hundred pad on the floor that takes up sort of most of the rooms, so shift. So they go off to bed. And then by the time my little one and I joined them, uh, they're asleep and we fall asleep. And so it's, you know, it really is dictated by when everyone gets sleepy, but I would say that I get more sleep than I used to because I do go to bed earlier. Uh, you know, when I was, you know, both young and single in New York, I would go to bed at all hours and then wake up early. And so, you know, that's very hard on your health. So I would say this has actually been a very restful time for us. Speaker 0 00:04:14 Well, that's very interesting because a lot of, uh, relatively new parents would say that having children is not conducive to getting more slate. So happy to hear. That's not the case with, uh, with you. Um, now independence day, commemorates the passage of the declaration of independence, a rejection of despotic government, um, followed by the constitution, which is strictly focused on limiting the power of government in that context. Um, freedom is a measure of individual and community autonomy from government control. Uh, is that how you understand freedom in this book? Speaker 1 00:04:59 Yeah, I mean, I don't think you have to limit it to the United States and to the, you know, frankly wonderful revolution that we had in 1776 that threw off a tear, radical power king George, the third. And, you know, he was the end of a long line of, uh, European despots who had ruled Europe in the middle ages with an iron hand. And we're basically, we're bound by no laws by no morality other than the ones they elected to follow. Um, and everyone else was effectively serfs. And so what we through what we Americans threw off was that terrible, that terrible legacy. And what we claimed as a right, was that the people, the people have the right to govern themselves through representatives that they elect and that those representatives, some of whom were very powerful people, uh, very rich and very powerful, and the generals and everyone else have a real consequence and importance in society that all of those were bound by the same laws and had to pay the same taxes as everybody else. Speaker 1 00:06:01 And so that was revolutionary to put powerful people under the jurisdiction of the same laws and authorities that the commoners were under. That was a very revolutionary principle. Uh, and the framers of course, were themselves drawn from a elite segment of society. And they placed themselves under those same constraints. Right. And they really understood that they were there to serve the people and not the other way around. So what I would say is that every human society has to find this balance between the having been sufficiently well-organized and hierarchical to maintain public order and a public defense, but not so much so that an abusive or cruel arbitrary ruler can use the apparatus of state to suppress the individual and to enrich him or herself at the expense of everyone else. Speaker 0 00:06:51 Yeah. I've been enjoying some of the quotes which you've created, or someone on your team has created into means on your social media accounts. And one of them, I think, was along the lines that any society, which is organized enough to protect itself can also be organized enough to oppress, uh, the people that are within that community. So, um, yeah, it, it is a, it is a tension. Um, but again, as I mentioned, you combined it with this, with this journey, this 400 mile journey that you and a few friends took on foot, uh, following the train tracks, of course, us at the Atlas society without inspired by Atlas frog, we have a special fondness for, uh, for the railroad and, and railroad metaphors. Um, what, what inspired you? I know, uh, reading some of your previous interviews you had, um, gone on a hitchhiking trip, uh, in your early twenties, but this was a very different kind of trip. Speaker 1 00:07:57 Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, the guys that I did this with were, um, we'd all been in a lot of combat and yeah, I think we were all having some effects from that, not grave ones, but some effects. Um, and one of those effects is to feel somewhat alienated from the society you're coming home to, um, that might not, you may not get that problem if you're fighting within your home territory against an invader, that probably feels very different, but for all of us, we were in other places, uh, and coming back to a society that struck us as somewhat odd when we came back. And so what we wanted to do, what I wanted to do was encounter this country that I, that I loved dearly. My father immigrated here. He was a refugee from two wars in Europe. Uh, he fled fascism in 1936 in Spain. Speaker 1 00:08:43 And then, and then when the Nazis came into France and he just was, uh, adored this country for what it offered to humanity and took to him, uh, and I, you know, I feel the same way and I, and I wanted to get to know my country again and the most sort of unfiltered way possible. And for some reason, staring out the window of a train, going down to DC one day from New York, uh, you know, I realized, wow, there's a way to walk along the railroad lines the whole way, like there's dirt, bike trails and maintenance roads and woods and cornfields, and sometimes through ghettos and rich suburbs, whatever, but you can thread your way through. And I understood the rail lines to be a kind of no man's land. There's no police surveillance out there. I mean, if they know that you're out there, the police will come and try to find you, which happened was a couple of times, but basically it's no man's land is unmonitored. Speaker 1 00:09:32 There's other marginal people out there and it's sort of wide open for whatever your needs are. So if it's raining, you can camp under a bridge under an overpass, and there's creeks to get your water out of. And there's firewood to make, you know, to cook, you make fires to cook on and, and you go through every conceivable American environment. And I thought, that's what I want to do. And so we walked, um, in several sections, we didn't do it all at once over the course of a year from Washington DC to Philadelphia. And then instead of continuing to New York, as we planned, we sort of wheeled westwards and headed for Pittsburgh and crossed the length of Pennsylvania, mostly along the Junee oughta river, which we can talk about in a bit if you'd like. Uh, and as I say in the book, um, over the course of 400 miles, most nights, we were the only people who knew where we were and that there's many definitions of freedom. They're all interesting. And we're talking about, but surely that's surely that's one of them. And it was, uh, it was a form of freedom that I found, uh, extremely gratifying to experience. Although it was very hard. We called it a high-speed vagrancy. We were carrying 60, 70 pounds on our backs and, uh, you know, physically speaking, it was a very arduous trip. Speaker 0 00:10:43 So one of the evenings on your journey, you were cooking dinner, uh, when a freight train, you describe thundering by with so much noise and power, you asked, what would it take to stop something like that instantaneously? And you thought, well, maybe a wall, and then you thought, no, it would have to be another train traveling in the same, uh, at the same speed, but in the opposite direction. And you thought America could be seen like that as well, a country moving so fast and with so much weight that only a head on collision with itself could make it stop. So unpack that metaphor for us, if Speaker 1 00:11:27 You will. I mean, we're the most powerful country in the world by orders of magnitude and probably ever in history. And, um, w w it's, it's hard for me to imagine. I mean, maybe it could happen, but it's hard for me to imagine a foreign power, um, other than, I don't know, an alien invasion or something, but it's hard for me to imagine the Russians or the Chinese or whoever you want to imagine coming into this country and defeating us and taking over this land. I just, it just militarily speaking. I don't, I don't, I don't think it's conceivable, I don't, I don't think they can get past our Navy for starters. I don't even think they get to our shores, you know, so, so the threat, I mean, we can be harmed by other groups such as Al-Qaeda obviously harvest grievously on 9 11, 20 years ago. Uh, but I don't think that's an existential threat. Um, but what to me is an existential threat is the possibility of a political and even a violence split within this country that actually just sort of destroys the democratic norms that we all count on for peaceful transition, transitions of power, and for a, you know, a society that at least is striving to be equitable and a gala Tarion and just, Speaker 0 00:12:44 Well interesting. Um, you know, when we talk about freedom and what those definitions are, uh, and then of course, equitable and egalitarian, um, whether that is we're all equal before the law or that, you know, we're seeking equal equal outcomes. And, um, I think that there are many people that came to the country, to our country from other countries that were promising and egalitarian ideal, uh, were promising community collectivism. And, uh, you know, your, your wife grew up in communist, Bulgaria and, and reading about her experience. Um, but in crowded in a one bedroom apartment with, with no hot water, no, no central heating. It reminded me a lot of, uh, another woman who came, um, from totalitarianism, of course, that's fine ran. And, um, the root, the root of the word, communism and community, you know, they, they, they derive from a similar kind of, um, etymological, uh, meaning, but, uh, you know, I think that some of the people that have fled, um, communism have a certain cynicism skepticism about a government that, that promises a community and a shared distribution of, of resources. So what, what lessons about freedom? Can we kind of draw from, uh, experiences of such countries that were crying to achieve these egalitarian, uh, ends by, by totalitarian control, or maybe even not necessarily originally totalitarian control, but, uh, that, you know, if you are trying to enforce or ensure equal outcomes, uh, for us, you know, becomes inevitable. Speaker 1 00:14:51 Yeah. And that, and that was my, uh, my actually pre my, my, my first wife, my former wife, uh, Daniella, uh, who I'm still very good friends with. Um, that was I I'm remarried. Um, yes, she grew up, um, the first half of her life was under communism and then the second half until she came to America, uh, was after the wall fell in Russia. Um, so, uh, I mean, a lot of points that I'm trying to recall them, but basically every, every government does, uh, share resources with everybody. To some degree, every time you build a federal highway, you're sharing, you're taking taxes and, and building a resource that all can use. I mean, every government does that. Um, if you're on a life raft, if your boat sinks and you're on a life raft and you have 10 gallons of water, um, there is a common agreement among the people in the life raft about how fast to drink the water, right. Speaker 1 00:15:41 And you may want more than five sips a day, but if the group decides that it's risky to drink the whole thing now, um, you're out of luck, right? And so that's, you know, that it Ritz small is sort of how government works. It figures out what the resources are and how to distribute them. You know what I would say about communism? I mean, first of all, communism and totalitarianism are not the same thing. You can be a totalitarian state and not be communist. Um, I, you know, I think the, the, the, the, the word community refers to an ancient and organic human norm where people are able to survive and even thrive because they live in the context of a group. I mean, humans die immediately in nature. If they're alone, they die within days, usually. Um, but in groups, uh, we have been able to survive and thrive and even actually dominate the planet. Speaker 1 00:16:36 Um, we're social primates, and we are not designed to survive ourselves. And in fact, there's an amazing example in a tragic, one of the, the last, um, what can we call him? Uh, the last free person entirely free independent autonomous person in this country was Amanda <inaudible>. He was from the Yagi tribe in California. He was the last of the Yahoo. And he lived for years, his whole, all of his people died out. Uh, and he, he lived into the 19 hundreds independently in the canyons south of Mount Lawson in California. And he had, you know, stone-age survival skills. That was his environment and alone. He could not do it. He finally wandered down into a nearby town and gave himself up because he could not survive by himself. So, so community refers to the people immediately around you that help provide your survival needs, and hopefully, hopefully ease the emotional and physical burdens of, uh, of life. Speaker 1 00:17:35 You know, communism is really, uh, describes a, a system of government where the major industries have been collectivized are owned by the state. The state pays a sort of small stipend to everybody so that nobody starves and gets rich. There's, there's easy access to sort of mediocre healthcare. Um, you, you will always have housing. I mean, you know, we could argue whether that's a good or a bad, bad paradigm. Obviously the, the wall fell in 1989. Capitalism took over for some good, both good and bad effects. Um, but the, the small communities of the sort that my former wife grew up in when these housing complex is very similar to the communities in the, in the, in the developments, in, in, in Manhattan that I live near in the lower east side, uh, you know, those, those, those little communities continue to function exactly like they did before the wall fell. Right. They were just small groupings of people that relied on each other for their basic needs and, and you know, what that didn't change. And that's an eternal human need that I think it's totally independent of the kind of government we have. Speaker 0 00:18:41 Um, yes. Well, we're probably not going to agree on, uh, on, on communism. Um, because my view is that, uh, you know, the, the, um, if you're going to want to have equal outcomes, um, that you're actually also going to, uh, not be able to generate, I mean, first resources have to be created in order to be shared, and, and that requires no capital and that requires freedom and competition. Um, but certainly there is no debating with the need for, for community. And I think that as you demonstrate in your book, and as you demonstrated in tribe, uh, part of what, the difficult transition that a lot of the soldiers that you were embedded with, uh, over in Afghanistan, um, it was not so much the trauma that they experienced in, um, in war and then coming back to peace time. But, but actually it was not necessarily leaving something bad, coming back to something good. Speaker 0 00:19:47 It was the experience of having a community of having this band of brothers and then coming back and having that shift to a, sort of a single person's lifestyle, even, even within a family. And, um, and you also talk about a similar kind of experience that even people that had been in the peace Corps, um, that did not have as much of a traumatic experience, um, come back, came back to, and that's something I related to because, uh, my, my parents were in the peace Corps and that's, that's where I was, was born in India. Um, so, so in your film, which, which I had the opportunity to watch Restrepo, uh, was nominated for an academy award and, and your book war, uh, is both a riveting account of your experience alongside a single platoon throughout a 15 month tour of duty, um, in the most dangerous outpost in, uh, Afghanistan Korengal valley, but it's also a exploration of the psychology of combat and war time. Speaker 0 00:20:59 And one of the sidebars, but I thought was, was interesting was from your perspective as a journalist, trying to maintain journalistic integrity, you know, following the rules, even as, you know, you were for all intents and purposes living, you know, with these men, uh, as, as part of their community. Um, and you talked about how journalists endeavoring to cover an assignment could find themselves relying on a paradigm of, uh, that they had inherited from the Vietnam war and, um, kind of a default mode of cynicism and an assumption of despair on the part of the troops, uh, which was not born out by the, uh, by the experience of the men themselves, is that Speaker 1 00:22:00 I lead on that. Yeah, of course. No, it was a great topic. Um, and let me just say, I think our views on communism are probably just about identical. I think it's an awful oppressive system. And, uh, and, and I, I don't think that they are looking for similar outcomes. I think it's more complex than that, but I know, I think we're in total agreement, it's a horrible system, a horrible thing to do to a society. Um, but yeah, <inaudible> um, so there were two things going on. Um, and of course, as in any sort of bad marriage or whatever, they were feeding each other. So you had a, as a default cynicism by the press Corps, because the last major war that the U S was in was in Vietnam. And frankly, there was a lot of dishonesty at times by the government. And, you know, the war started with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which itself was not an entirely honest, uh, uh, communication by the government. Speaker 1 00:22:52 And, uh, you know, there were, there were some sound reasons for fighting that war, but they weren't necessarily communicated to the public. I think. So there was some cynicism by the press that carried, carried forward to the next generation of like daring war, uh, daring war, war, journalists, who, who, you know, like, trapes it off to Afghanistan to cover the next, I'm putting this in quotes, right? The next us debacle, right. And their default assumption was that generals they're stupid. And they lie to you and that the, every war is wrong and et cetera, et cetera. Right. And, but, but the military, the military played their part as well. Right. They didn't trust the press as far as they could throw them. So they were often really not very honest with them either. And I remember talking to a press office, you know, we were there for so long and we were so well-liked and so well known. Speaker 1 00:23:43 So familiar to these guys, they started, I think they S they started, they forgot that we were civilians or that we were journalists or whatever, like we were sort of in the brotherhood. Right. And so one guy, um, a press officer said, Hey, Sebastian, can you just tell me, just give me some advice about how to talk to the press is they don't believe anything. I say, and I laughed. And I said, well, they don't believe anything you say, cause you only give them good news. Right. But surely bad things happen in a war. I mean, by definition they do. Right. So, um, if the casualty count is the American casually calves going up, don't say it's because of the insurgencies losing and getting desperate. Like that's just nonsensical, like give them an honest answer. And if you say something that makes the, that, if you say something that, that isn't good, they will trust you. Speaker 1 00:24:35 When you say something that is good, that you did build that school. And it did educate some children, et cetera, et cetera. But if you only give them the good news, they're human beings, they know they know how to snip out nonsense. Right. So you gotta be treat them like adults and give them both because both is the reality. I don't know if he followed my advice on that or not, but you can see the sort of cycle that the two got into with the press Corps and the, and the, and the press officers chasing, chasing each other around each determined to instill their completely like binary story in the other person's thinking, Speaker 0 00:25:12 No. Was your experience, do you think that, uh, the extent of the access that we had, the amount of time that you spent was that doesn't seem standard, but maybe, maybe it was, Speaker 1 00:25:29 Uh, you know, we S we thought sort of slipped through the gap, right? I mean, no one, I think the military, I think it didn't, the military is used to dealing with, uh, presbyters prefers, TV, press journalists, and, and, uh, I mean, TV and, and, uh, newspaper journalists who, you know, basically they, these organizations have enough money to send someone on one trip for two weeks and that's it. And they get a, you know, a sort of sampling of what's going on. They come home and they write their story. He didn't have any really, it's a story about, it's a big picture story. I mean, maybe they focus on the outpost, but there's always the paragraph, the three paragraphs framing it in, how is the war going? What are the mistakes that were made? What, you know, whatever it's, it's standard, front page journalism, what they weren't prepared for was, uh, two journalists who were not filing daily deadlines were not filing at all. Speaker 1 00:26:15 In fact, for the, over the course of a year, hardly at all, and had the money to do, you know, trip after trip to the same little outpost that was in the middle of nowhere. It had almost no bearing on the overall war. And, you know, at the very ends, uh, my colleague, Tim, uh, who I made this Restrepo with, we both carry video. Cameras, shot all the video. We were there sometimes together, sometimes apart, Tim had gone there and, you know, may our, most of our trips were like a month. And like two months later, the, the colonels showed up on pass through, through the area and saw him and realized he'd been there the entire time and was, was pretty upset. And so I think the military just, it never occurred to them to journalists would do this. What I will say is that we weren't covering the war. We were trying to understand the, the subjective experience of a group of about 30 guys. And, uh, so we were not making any commentary about good or bad decisions. Is it moral, immoral, nothing like that. We were really completely embedded subjectively with this platoon in our work product came out way later. Speaker 0 00:27:30 Is Tim, the, the friend and colleague that, uh, that was killed. Speaker 1 00:27:35 Yeah, Tim, uh, Tim was killed, uh, um, just 10 years ago. Um, he, a few weeks after we went to the Oscars, we didn't win an Oscar, but we were nominated for an Oscar for Rastrapo. And we were very proud to be on the red carpet. And we took a couple of soldiers and their wives, you know, from the platoon. And it was pretty amazing, very proud moment for, for us. And, um, we were supposed to head off on assignment to Libya. They cover the civil war in Libya. That was raging. It was the Arab spring. And the, you know, the Arab world was inflamed. We're journalists. You know, we do things, we do many more things to just cover the U S military, right? We've covered all kinds of things for years, Arab worlds in flames. We want to go cover it. Uh, the last minute I couldn't go and Tim went on his own and was killed in the city of Misrata, uh, by a mortar fired by Qaddafi's forces. He was on the frontline and he just caught a little piece of metal in his groin, but it hit his artery, his femoral artery. And he bled out in the back of a rebel pickup truck racing for the Misrata hospital with, with some other, uh, wounded, uh, uh, Libyan fighters, Speaker 0 00:28:42 Very, very rough. And I'm remembering the, the article now about the, um, about your experience at the Oscars and things that you're going through in your life at the time, and now I'm starting to get the timeline. Correct. So, thanks for that correction. Um, so, you know, spending over a year, uh, 15 months with these men, um, filming them, sleeping with them, eating with them, going out on patrols, going out on missions with them, um, asking for advice, giving advice, you know, you got to know them pretty well. And I mean, to the extent that even years later, they, they, uh, came along with you on the journey that ended up being part of, part of this, this book. Uh, so thinking about the paradigms, um, another paradigm that, uh, that are, you know, obsessed with right now is, is this idea, um, uh, systematic institutional racism. And, um, and that is a theme that you do explore, I think, um, beautifully and tragically in, uh, a death in Belmont. Um, but with regard to your experience with, with these soldiers in Afghanistan, troops in Afghanistan was your experience that, uh, I mean, how critical was skin color, um, in the way that soldiers, white soldiers, black soldiers thought about themselves, thought about each other, thought about, uh, their country one way or another, was that one of your big takeaways from some of that I didn't Speaker 1 00:30:29 Even, you know, I didn't actually interview them about what they thought about their country. They weren't thinking about their country a whole lot, you know, I mean, they miss their girlfriends and their, their, their families and what have you. Um, but they were really focused on what they were doing there and their orientation was do the mission safely, get everyone home alive, you know, your work and go home and leave it, leave the, the, the Cornell valley in a little better condition for the next unit. Then they received it. And that was, you know, in other words, they were complete professionals and they did. So I didn't have conversations about America per se, but what I will say is that I, myself didn't see examples of racism. Maybe I wouldn't recognize it if I saw it, but I didn't, I didn't see any, but the combat units were almost completely white, uh, white and Latino. Speaker 1 00:31:18 I mean, there was in, in, um, second platoon battle company of the one 73rd airborne that I was with. Uh, there was one black guy and, uh, and he, you know, I asked him eventually, you know, I, it took me a while to get to know him. And he was an interesting personality and a little intimidating, frankly, and, and, uh, and wonderful guy, really amazing and incredible soldier. And, and what I asked him, I finally sort of worked up the nerve to, to, um, ask something personal of him. I said, w what do you make of this? You're the only black guy in the platoon is that w what's with that. Right. And he said, ah, he said, you know, uh, he said, look, black folks really aren't that easy to get shot at? You know, it happens enough in their neighborhoods. Like we're not going to sign up for it. Speaker 1 00:32:04 He said, I'm a weirdo, you know? And, and, uh, but you know, he was laughing as he said it, but that was his answer about the, the fact that the, the, the combat platoons were almost completely, um, uh, non African-American. Uh, they were white and Latino primarily. And, but he also said this other thing, he said, you know, then everybody here, uh, he said, nobody's, he said, he said that he hadn't really experienced any racism. He said, once in a while, there's a little whip of something that is a little ugly. And he said, it's very, very rare once in a while, he said, but you know what, even those guys, those guys that he believes were maybe a little racist in their thinking. He said, you know what, I'm a good soldier. And not one of them wouldn't take me in a firefight. They would all have me by their side and a firefight. Speaker 1 00:32:49 And so that reality of combat, uh, where you may need to give your blood to help save a wounded brother's life, you may need to run through gunfire to drag a wounded brother to safety, or they would do that for you. Like in that, in that sort of circumstance, not only does race disappear, but sort of politics, right. There were Democrats out there and Republicans and everything in between, there was religious people. And a lot of non-religious people, there was everything right. And no one really paid any heat to any of it, um, at a place like that. Speaker 0 00:33:22 Well, that's, um, that's interesting, you know, you saying that politics, wasn't playing a big role race, wasn't playing a big role. People were focused on, on what they had to do, religion, wasn't playing a big role. Um, and, uh, earlier this year, some lawmakers, um, like representative Steve cone of Tennessee voiced concerns about the ideological makeup of national guardsman, um, posing a potential national security threat. There's been calls for the us military to more closely that soldiers for extremist views, um, from your perspective, is that, is that, is that a concern? I mean, do, do you think about these are all potential, uh, white supremacist in stressful insurrectionists, or it doesn't sound like it's matching up with, with your experience? Speaker 1 00:34:23 Yeah. I mean, I, you know, I have a sample size of 30 here and there's 2 million people. And if I'm, well, Speaker 0 00:34:28 There was a sample size of 30. Yeah. You've probably from your relationships, their relationships. I mean, it wasn't cut off from the larger military experience. I mean, Speaker 1 00:34:40 You know, what I would say to that is no, I mean, the men that I knew it was all men out there and the men that I knew were not voicing opinions like that, but it was also, it was 2007. You know, this is almost 15 years ago that there has been a lot of social and political changes in this country since then. Um, and my understanding, uh, from conversations, uh, is that on the larger basis, like Viagra, um, there, that there were actually were sort of quote, big city problems, right? There was sexual harassment, there was rape. Uh, there was racism that th th those problems disappeared in the, in the, you know, in the extreme danger and isolation of the small outposts. But once you got to the larger basis where we're most us military is right. I mean, most of the us military is not at tiny outposts. Speaker 1 00:35:31 The, you know, it's a sort of, you know, we see the dramatic stuff, that's the tip of the iceberg, but most of the iceberg is under water at basis. And so there may well have been societal problems in those bases. I just didn't experience because I was never at them. I mean, what I will say is that my, you know, on Facebook basically, uh, I, you know, some years ago when I enrolled with Facebook, like, I didn't really understand how it worked. And basically anyone who wanted to be my friend, I'd say yes. Right. So I got it. I got a really weird, diverse sampling. Uh, I'm a Democrat. So I got a whole bunch of lefties that say annoying things. I got a whole bunch of conservatives, but also saying annoying things, a bunch of soldiers, a bunch of everything. Right. And, you know, I, I mean, I do have to say in recent years, some of the, the online rhetoric, which maybe doesn't represent honest views, I think there's a sort of escalation of rhetoric that happens in social media that I don't entirely take at face value, but, you know, there's some, I, you know, I've seen some bad S you know, say some pretty disturbing things about, you know, the coming civil war in this country. Speaker 1 00:36:32 And, you know, I would ever just stop that to me is not very democratically minded. And, um, you know, if it's obnoxious enough, I just take the, I just unfriend them because I don't want to read it. I think it's, um, insulting to, to the sacrifices that many have made for this democracy. But, um, you know, basically I think the, the concern, I think there was a study done right. Of political opinion within the military. And, and I think that, you know, I'm guessing the military monitor social media, and they're probably seeing some of the same comments that I've been, that I've seen. And I think they're concerned, probably came from that. I, I'm not cynical enough to think that they would Mount an in-group inquiry like that, um, with zero basis. I just don't know why they would do that. Um, so, but I, you know, I don't know, I'm not an expert. I mean, I, I, I would ask the Congressman. Speaker 0 00:37:22 Yeah, fair enough. Um, uh, we are going to get to some of the questions I'm going to take a look at those, but I also wanted to return to the topic we had touched upon earlier, which is, uh, post-traumatic stress disorder. And, um, you've, you've written about the challenges of soldiers find and transitioning from combat to civilian life. And, and you made a, I thought a very interesting point. You said that ex combatants should not be encouraged to see themselves as victims. And, uh, from your perspective, how has our understanding of PTSD changed? And, uh, do you see a danger or risk of treating it as a, as a chronic pathology, which, you know, categorizes people as a permanent victims, Speaker 1 00:38:13 Right. I mean, I think any psychologist would say, no, one's good cling to the victim identity because it precludes recovery. Right. And when you become dependent on it, either because you're getting a government stipend or whatever, or you just, your identity depends on that victim hood as a source of sort of social empowerment, you know, anyone who clings that identity, things of that identity is, uh, doing themselves a disservice. So I, you know, I would include, you know, veterans in that, in that group, you know, one of the predictors of long-term PTSD, I mean, there is a biological and psychological reaction to Trump. You have a car accident, certain things are gonna happen to you psychologically and physically in the ensuing days and weeks, that is your body adapting to the trauma and recovering from it, right. Uh, that's a trauma reaction, uh, it's transitory and in most people within a month or so, it's starting to, it starts to sort of ease off. Speaker 1 00:39:09 There are people and, and statistically, they are associated with childhood trauma. Um, there are people who are traumatized as adults, including veterans, uh, childhood trauma, meaning violence and sexual trauma, of course, um, that makes them particularly vulnerable not to PTSD, but to long-term chronic PTSD, which could last a lifetime. Something like 20% of people who have been traumatized, just keeps cycling back into this trauma loop and can't get out of it. And that's where you have a chronic condition. I think the word victim is, um, I don't think it has a place in the therapeutic, uh, conversation, but in terms of longterm, a trauma reaction, um, there is a real danger in classifying oneself as permanently disabled by PTSD. There's some financial incentives to do that because the military will continue to give it giving you disability payments, your social incentives to do it. People take pity on you, they have empathy because you, you were brave, you fought for the country and you paid a price. Um, there was a lot of sort of incentives to continue that sort of wounded warrior sort of, um, identity. Um, but in the end of the day, it keeps you from re reintegrating in a healthy way back into society, which supposedly is the point of all this. So, you know, I, you know, I would say, um, I would say that's a, that's a real danger in the, in a, in a medical establishment that tends to pathologize and then Medicaid problems. Speaker 0 00:40:41 Um, culturally, do you think there's something larger going on here? Uh, not just having to do with, with veterans, but how we, we view victim hood. You know, I remember, um, my grandmother, when, um, something would happen to you, you fall down or whatever, and you complained, she just say, get on up and go about your business and stop crying and stop complaining. Uh, and it, it seems, you know, just that though compassionate, that, uh, that you might be going overboard. And then also, um, w within a context of trying to be compassionate about people who have had a bad experience or had something bad happen to them that, uh, that there's almost an immoral exaltation to, to victim hood, um, which can then make it something that like, oh, I'm I look harassed. I, you know, somebody spoke to me in a wrong way. So, well, Speaker 1 00:41:46 I mean, I think our society, um, has incentivized victim hood by giving people the misunderstanding that victims get extra rights. Right. And, um, uh, you know, I think that's, uh, not only bad for society, I think it's bad for the individuals and incentivizes people to see themselves as victims. And they sort of claim these extra rights and other people, they can sort of silence other people by saying, I'm the biggest victim in the room. So you be quiet now you listen to my truth or whatever. Right. I hate that kind of thinking. And, you know, there's victim hood all over the place. There's some, you know, you know, w you know, extreme, left wing people who think they're victims or extreme right-wing, people will think there are victims. There were some of the people that invaded the U Capitol in January 16th, they were victims, right. Speaker 1 00:42:32 I mean, on and on, it goes on and on. Right. And so there's victims everywhere. And I think, you know, I think what we need, I think we have a lack of compassion in our society. It's a mass industrialized, highly technological society, very atomized, very alienated. I think there's a sort of lack of compassion and empathy, but then on the other hand, there's a sort of over victimization of people. And I think they're both very bad. I'll, I'll, I'll end this answer with a quick anecdote of someone who I think could serve as an example to us all, uh, whatever side of the political spectrum, Iran, or bet, or non vet or anything like, so I was, I was, uh, I gave a talk down to north Norfolk Naval base, and I was leaving the next morning. I was in a hotel off post early in the morning. Speaker 1 00:43:15 And I came out from the hotel waiting for my car to the airport. And, and there was this old guy in a wheelchair I'm missing half his right leg bandaged right age. He had just been taken off him. Right. And he was trying to get into a locked car and I walked up and I was like, Hey, can I help you, sir? And he said, oh, that's okay. I'll just wait for my wife was the keys. And, um, and I said, wow. I looked down at his leg. I said, that seems really painful. And, uh, and he says, oh, it's okay. You know, no, self-pity at all. He's like, ah, it's okay. It's interesting. It's new situation. It's interesting. He wouldn't even say it was painful. Right. So I was like, oh, you're a tough nut. I'll try again. I said, wow, you seem really brave about it. Speaker 1 00:43:53 And he looked at me like I was the biggest pool he'd seen all week. And he said, brave about it. There's young people in this country missing both their legs. Don't tell me that I'm break. Right. And, you know, he wasn't making any distinction about any of those people, right. Democrats, Republicans, black, white, old, whatever. He was just saying, there are other Americans who are suffering more than me. Don't worry about me, sir. Right. And, you know, I think we all, we all need a dose of that all across the political spectrum and the social spectrum. Speaker 0 00:44:26 Well, one of the themes that we've focused on at the outer society, so we do focus on, on victimhood. We've done a drama life. My name is victim hood to talk about how that, uh, that can be so spiritually corrosive and also how it can be politically manipulated both to, to gain power, to gain extra, extra, extra goodies or extra privileges. Uh, but we also did kind of a flip side video on gratitude. And, um, and that's something which is a, an antidote it's kind of kryptonite to, to victim hood and, um, and to resentment and to, uh, to so many of the, kind of, for me, the qualities that we can obsess about. Yeah. Speaker 1 00:45:15 Oh, gratitude is enormously important. I think the older you get the easier it is to access because you start counting your days. I mean, I almost died last year. I had a, um, undiagnosed Speaker 0 00:45:25 And share that experience. I mean, it was when you were just mentioning your friend and having his female artery cut. I mean, we had a very strangely similar experience caused by nothing. Speaker 1 00:45:41 Yeah. I had an undiagnosed aneurism in an abdominal artery asymptomatic. It was congenital, right. It was just, I was born with it. And, uh, and without warning it ruptured last year and I lost 90% of my blood nine zero. Right. I mean, I was beyond debt. I mean, I, you know, I mean, I was conscious, I was talking and they managed to save me. I mean, nobody survives this. Right. And they managed to save me. And now every day is the life I shouldn't have, you know, I, I, statistically shouldn't be living every single day and I am aware of it. Right. And that definitely changes your experience of, of stressors. Right. Nothing's a stressor now because I'm lucky to experience anything even sitting in, I'm even lucky to be sitting in traffic without air conditioning. I'm sorry. It's all form of good luck, you know, and if, yeah, if we could ask all access that it would make as much, uh, for starters, much more pleasant with each other. Speaker 0 00:46:35 All right. I completely agree. You know, I say it is in order to be objective, you have to have perspective and a starting perspective should be that we've, you've all won the lottery by, by living here in America. And, um, and living in at this time in history as well, Speaker 1 00:47:00 I would broaden it. I would, I think you could edit your centers. I would say we are all lucky to be living anywhere in any way. Right. Unless you're, unless you're in chronic intense pain. I mean, of course there's circumstances that, but, but for most people, I think we can just say we're lucky to be, to be alive. Speaker 0 00:47:19 So, uh, the boxing, you know, when you talk about getting, getting older entering, you know, our second half of, of life, we're both in that, in that boat, uh, most people at that stage say, oh, maybe I'm going to take up stamp collecting, or maybe I'm going to take up birdwatching. Maybe I'm going to sign up for an Atlas society book, club, new decided to take up boxing. What's up with that. Speaker 1 00:47:50 You know, uh, it's very, very scary. Boxing is very, very, I found it very, very frightening and physically, yeah. Likes Speaker 0 00:47:55 You like scary. You like fighting apparently nothing that you're, Speaker 1 00:48:00 I feel like I encounter important things about myself when I'm doing things that I'm not sure what will turn out well now I've, you know, I have two little girls, I will do nothing to jeopardize my own health or, or, or, or survival, uh, because I, you know, I don't want to deprive myself of them or them of a father. Right. So, um, no more war reporting, none of that stuff. I don't even cross the street against the light. I mean, I'm pathetic. Right. But I do need something that puts me in, you know, in what feels like a situation where I'm in over my head and even friendly sparring, you can feel that way. And I just kinda need that. They're, they're walking along the railroad lines was the same way, man. I was an alien atmosphere and it was potentially dangerous and it was, it was freaky out there. Right. And I just needed that. And, and, uh, so boxing is, is, is one of the ways I get that now. And it just, it, you know, I grew up in very safe, comfortable circumstances, and I think I grew up feeling like I just needed to be tested in order to feel like I'm alive. Speaker 0 00:49:01 Or you thought you grew up in very safe circumstances, which now that I've read, um, uh, death and Belmont turned out safely. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about, about that is that once you're, without giving a spoiler to, to the, to the book, it's a, it's a book about, uh, the Boston strangler. It's, it's something that happened, I think like early sixties, Speaker 1 00:49:30 Early sixties. Yeah. So the self-confessed Boston strangler Al de salvo during the time that he was said he was murdering people, was working for my parents as a carpenter. And there was a murder down the street in Belmont, um, about a mile away in Belmont, uh, of the exact same modus operandi as all the crimes that he confessed to. But a black guy who had cleaned this lady's house that day was, was tried and convicted of the crime and sent, sentenced to life in prison. And he wouldn't even, even when offered parole on condition that he expressed regret for his crime, you refused, you refused his freedom. And he just said, I just did not commit that crime and years later, I mean, we, my family knew when DeSalvo was caught or serial rape and confessed to these murders. My family had this awful secret that Al was down the street at our home alone all day and might've might have killed Bessie Goldberg. And so my book is an inquiry into whether into the circumstances of all that and what likely happened. Speaker 0 00:50:31 So, um, looking back among your, your books, uh, do you, what, like what percentage of, um, the people that read your books are, is an audience that, that you've retained from, from the beginning from the perfect storm does change over time? Speaker 1 00:50:52 I, you know, honestly, I don't know. I mean, when I started, you know, my, my book war about the platoon that I was with in Afghanistan, um, you know, that got me, obviously a lot of military readers that I certainly think were there before. I mean, some of them maybe read the perfect storm or saw the movie, but I, you know, that, that put me within the military readership, uh, I think that continued with tribe because part of tribe, not all of it, but one chapter of it was dealt with PTSD as a, as an, as an example of alienation within society. Um, and you know, that freedom isn't at all explicitly about the military, but it's divided into three sections run, fight and think which are the three ways that human society over the last 10,000 years, uh, the human groups have maintained their autonomy in the face of a more powerful foe. And, uh, and so I think there's a certain amount of, um, a certain amount of that way of thinking that resonates with, uh, with soldiers and former soldiers. Speaker 0 00:51:52 So we're, we're gonna wrap it up in, in a few minutes, but I mentioned up at the top, uh, that I wanted to touch on a bit of, of your unique parenting style. And, um, parenting is a topic that we focused on here on this webinar, including, uh, our interview with Lenore Skenazy who wrote, uh, free range parenting. Um, how did you, did you come to, to this style, was this your, your wife had, uh, obviously there's a fate saying it, but, um, tell us a little bit about, it's not just the sleeping together as a family. You don't have a stroller, right? You're always holding your children. Yeah. Speaker 1 00:52:38 I mean, obviously strollers were invented after pavement was invented and all this stuff is quite new. I mean, you know, for the last 10,000 years, humans have lived in homes that were generally one large space with a hearth at one side of it. And people slept in groups, they slept together with their children. And certainly if you go, you know, if you go backpacking into the Bob Marshall wilderness area with grizzly bears and all that stuff in Montana, uh, you're probably not going to put your, your, your 12 month old in a separate little tent, right. The 12 month old is going to be with you. Um, the, the, the quote, modern style of parenting really originated in England a couple of hundred years ago. Um, it's unique to the English speaking world, uh, or, um, it's predominantly the English speaking world. And it started know relatively recently in human history, but for most of human history, people slept in groups. Speaker 1 00:53:29 And of course they didn't have strollers. Um, the Apache didn't have strollers, they carried their children and, you know, by age five or so, the children were so strong enough to walk a good portion of the day, even carrying some weight and helping the tribe. So that's the human norm. And so I, you know, I just, and I've been all over the world and Africa and Afghanistan, everywhere, people sleep in groups and children walk or young children or carrot. Um, it's very easy to carry a child. You can swing a child by a strap on your front or on your back. And, you know, so I have, uh, you know, in the city, um, we live in a three-story walkup. So having a stroller, wouldn't be practical anyway, there's no elevator, obviously. So, you know, I, I would have our, our littlest girl up strapped to my chest and that my four year old would be on, you know, on my shoulders with their legs dangling down, you know, that's a total of about 60 pounds, right? Speaker 1 00:54:23 So, you know, I can walk all day long with 60 pounds. I walked 400 miles along the railroad lines, carrying 60 pounds. If I can do that, to get them to daycare and back, you know, what am I alive for Jesus? You know, like that's, that's just a, that's just a baseline of human performance that we should all be able to do, or parents should be able to do so that, so that's, that's our thinking about that. And, you know, as a result, there's, there's very little sibling rivalry, you know, they're, they're so, so securely attached to us because they're there, they're not separated from us at night. That scary time that I remember as a little kid went, oh, it's time to go to bed. And you get, you get put in your room and the door gets closed in you're in the darkness. Like it's terrifying for a little primate, which is what little children are. They're young primates is terrifying. They get their safety from being from proximity to adults. And there was six month old doesn't know that they're in Belmont, Massachusetts and safe as can be. Right. Uh, so, so the thinking there is that it makes for very securely attached children, which at least in the case of our two little girls certainly seem to be, it seems to be the case. Speaker 0 00:55:23 So, um, you once gave a commencement speech to a graduating class at an elite New York school. And, um, correct me if I'm, if I'm felling to capture this, but it seemed like your central piece of advice was be prepared to fail, uh, that children who were over-prepared for to succeed may catastrophize failure or fail to take the risks that, that lead to failure, but ultimately to, to learning, uh, what, what was your message there? I mean, we all learn from that. Speaker 1 00:55:58 Yeah, no, it was a great question. I mean, I feel like in sort of elite societies and I grew up in that, so I know it very well. There's this sort of obsession with it, with accomplishment and success, and you want an unblemished resume. No, no. It was, you know, gap years where you can explain what you were doing because you were hitchhiking across Africa or whatever, you know, you really w you know, and it's a, it's a gasoline inhuman way to con to, to have a child that lead their life life. And so I didn't say, be prepared to fail. I say, I said, be determined to fail, right? I mean, if you don't fail, you clearly, aren't getting anywhere close to your, to your, um, capacities, right? You're clearly only doing things that you have completely mastered, and really what's the point if that's all you're doing with your life. So, and if you fail, um, periodically, you know, you're testing yourself and you, you, people adapt to failure. They learn a lot, you learn a lot more from failure and from pain than you do from success and pleasure. And you need full quantities of both to be a fully informed, fully integrated human being. And so that's what I was telling them. Like, don't worry about your parents and your resume, just make sure you go out there and fail a couple of times, and you'll be a fuller, probably happier person for it. Speaker 0 00:57:15 So in that regard, what are some of your best failures or, or, or, you know, because all of your books have been successful and, and, uh, Speaker 1 00:57:26 Right. So I was a pretty good distance runner when I was young. I was determined to go to the Olympics. I worked as hard as I could. And this is the, you know, goes back to, you know, similar outcomes. It's, it's not possible to have similar outcomes for everybody. Did genetics just for you. You have nothing else. Genetics determines a lot about com. So nobody trained harder than me at 17. Right. I ran a four 12 mile in college, which is pretty decent. I didn't go to the Olympics. Right. I ran just as hard as any Olympic runner, but they had better genetics that in my terms, I was a failure. I failed to be the world-class runner that I fantasize me then a little bit later in life. Uh, I, I divorced the woman that you mentioned from Bulgaria, so good friends with her, but we added got divorced and I, it was a tough time in both of our lives. Speaker 1 00:58:12 And, um, and I wanted to put my head in a different place. I started boxing. I don't think I'm a very good boxer, but I was, I started playing accordion and I had knew nothing about music and talk about failure. I mean, I couldn't find C on a keyboard. Right. But failure after failure, wretched song after wretched song, um, I learned to play and I'm a pretty good player now. I mean, people will listen to me and enjoy it. And so then that's what I mean about failure. Like, don't be scared of it. That's the only way to something, a real value. I think Speaker 0 00:58:45 I could not agree more. So, um, finally, to, to close Sebastian, what you've accomplished so much, you've traveled to all of these countries, we've written on such a diverse range of subjects. What is what's on your bucket list? Both, uh, personally, and in terms of the topics you might like to cover, I have yet to discover them. Speaker 1 00:59:11 Yeah. I mean, I, you know, I think as we raise our children, um, I want them to really encounter the worlds. And I'm sure you know about this, your, your folks were in the peace Corps. I, so I want them to, we want them to encounter the world. So I think we're going to, at some point, take them out of school and sort of do a year of study and travel in each continent. Um, including north America course, um, Asia, Africa, um, maybe we'll skip Australia. I don't know. It's a, it's an amazing place. Is that a continent? Maybe it's a continent. I don't know. Uh, Speaker 0 00:59:44 Okay. Yeah. Speaker 1 00:59:45 I mean, I, you know, we're hoping to be in the non-English speaking part of the world. Uh, basically, I mean, my dad grew up in France. We lived there when I was a kid who was amazing experience. So, you know, I think that's one thing. I don't know if it's a bucket list, but it's a plan anyway. Um, and I think I'm going to write about what happened to me when I almost died. You know, my I'm an atheist, I'm not religious. Um, and, um, as I was dying, uh, a black hole opened up underneath me and I started getting pulled down into it. And then my dead father appeared. He was a physicist, a very rational man. My dead father appeared over me and started trying to comfort me. And I'm really at pains to explain how that happens. Um, and I would like to write, I'm going to write a book called pulse about what keeps us alive and what happens pulse, what keeps us alive and what happens when we die Speaker 0 01:00:31 Well in your research, I'll volunteer the services of my father. Uh, he's a cardiologist who had seen many patients, um, have near death experiences. And I would be also interested to hear what he'd have to say about, about your case. We're very happy that it turned out the way it, it did. Um, any, any other points that I might've missed or that you wanted to cover? Speaker 1 01:00:58 Um, I, you know, I, I guess I would just say that just in keeping with the, the focus of your organization, which I think is a wonderful one, the eternal human struggle is to balance the entirely healthy and natural desires of the individual to enact their own policies, their own, to pursue their own interests and be left alone, to balance that with the equally important and enormously gratifying experience of being part of a community community and committed to its welfare and even prepared to sacrifice for it. And, and when a person in a society can achieve a sort of, sort of rough balance of those two imperatives, um, you, you get, you get great satisfaction and great social health and individual health. And, you know, I think that's the eternal human struggle. And I, and I think books like Atlas shrug go to the heart of, you know, one very, very important component of that, of that human puzzle that we all must solve. Speaker 0 01:02:00 Well, you know, Atlas shrugged is, uh, is, uh, about freedom, but of course there is Galt's Gulch, uh, without spoiling that novel either it is a community kind of a utopia that, uh, that people who are creative and creators, but we don't want to be taken of. And he want to live life on your own terms with friends and colleagues of that choosing. So that's a wonderful book. This is a spectacular book. And, uh, and it's a wonderful read. I also recommend, uh, folks that you get it on audible, and we'll put that link in our, um, in the chat. And thank you very much. If you come back out to California, we'd love to see you here. And we are very, very grateful for, uh, for your insights and set the time today. Speaker 1 01:02:53 Likewise, thank you. I w it was a thrilling conversation and very, very interesting and made me think of all kinds of new ways. And I always appreciate that. Speaker 0 01:03:01 All right. Thanks everyone. And we'll see you next week. Thank you.

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