This is the interview with Will Storr from episode 033 of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast.
Will Storr, wrote a book called The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science. In that book, Storr spends time with Holocaust deniers, young Earth creationists, people who believe they’ve lived past lives as famous figures, people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, people who stake their lives on the power of homeopathy, and many more – people who believe things that most of us do not. Storr explains in the book that after spending so much time with these people it started to become clear to him that it all goes back to that model of reality we all are forced to generate and then interact with. We are all forced to believe what that model tells us, and it is no different for people who are convinced that dinosaurs and human beings used to live together, or that you can be cured of an illness by an incantation delivered over the telephone. For some people, that lines up with their models of reality in a way that’s good enough. It’s a best guess.
David: Will, you spend in the book – you spent intimate time with young earth creationists, holocaust deniers, homeopaths. People who send people back through their past lives as other people and things like that. And I think many people look at those individuals and groups to which they belong as either being stupid or ignorant or crazy or under the influence of some kind of manipulation. And I don’t think you agree with that. How do you see those sorts of people?
Will: Yeah no, you’re absolutely right. I mean, I think that kind of the first insight came to me actually, so in the first chapter of the book which deals with young earth creationists. And I’ve been a journalist for – getting on for 14, 15 years now. And I’ve always been interested in people with kinda crazy beliefs. And it kind of hit me on that trip, when I was this guy, John Mackay, who’s this Australian man. He’s very influential in the kinda creationist scene, both in Australia and the UK and in the US.
And he wasn’t stupid, this wasn’t a stupid man. I think one of the moments I remember was actually – I first met him doing this big talk in this town hall in this little town in kinda the remote north of Australia, which is a bit like perhaps the kind of Bible belt of America. And selling all these religious items, but he was also selling like double DVD packs of debates with scientists. And I’m like, if this guy is debating scientists and then selling those debates in DVD packs, he’s obviously doing pretty well.
And then that was kinda, as we know he’s behaving like somebody who’s winning. And then I interviewed him. It’s like, he’s not stupid, he’s not crazy, he’s living an orderly life. He’s not mad, he’s not on– He’s a successful individual. So if he’s not stupid and he’s not mad, than what’s the answer? Because this guy believes in some really extreme stuff – the earth is 6000 years old. He believes in the literal existence of the devil. All of these really extreme things, and yet– And all the facts that he’s constantly surrounded with, which kind of demonstrate these things aren’t true are completely, he’s impervious to them. They don’t have any effect on him.
And I sat down and I interviewed him with a big long list of basic scientific facts, and simple questions of logic. Like, God created the earth, if we are his only creation, then why did he bother creating out of space? Doesn’t make any sense. And his answer was like, “Oh it’s so we can tell the time.” And then another one was like – his idea, ’cause he believes in the literal Garden of Eden. Which, ’cause it was perfect, you have to believe that there was no, nothing was carnivorous. There was no such thing as disease. Everything was kind of perfect, and the weather was perfect. And I was like, “If there were no carnivores, then why does T-Rex have huge teeth?” And the answer is, “So they can eat watermelons.”
Like these facts were just not working on him. And so that to me is an interesting question. And suddenly it’s a much more interesting exercise in kind of running around feeling superior and very pleased with yourself. And pointing fingers and going, “You’re stupid, you’re stupid, you’re stupid.” Which is what a lot of people do. And actually, they’re not stupid. And once you kind of acknowledge that, suddenly you’re in a much more interesting place as far as I’m concerned. And that’s, “Why don’t facts work on people? What’s going on there?”
David: Okay Will, and you come back to that over and over again. And the people who believe these ideas that – as you said their heretical to scientific consensus. And it isn’t that they’re unaware of the facts that inform everyone else’s opinions, they know what we know and they reject all of that. And they often see people who accept certain scientific facts actually as they’re the rubes. But when you bring this point up, you point towards yourself and then of course it bleeds over into the reader, and you ask, “How do I know that I’m right and that they’re wrong?” So in your mind, what does constitute an irrational belief?
Will: That’s, I mean, that’s a really good question. What does constitute irrational belief? It’s very hard for any individual to kinda categorically and understand. To kind of put it out, separate my rational beliefs from my irrational beliefs. There are lots of questions that kind of immediately come up in response to that. And I think one of the main ones is, “How did we come upon this belief?” And I think one of the warning signs for me is emotion.
A guy, a psychologist who you may be, I’m sure you’re aware of Professor Haidt?
David: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Will: And he said to me, something along the lines of – I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was basically, “If you want to find irrationality, then look for the things that people make sacred. Look for the, and I read that as if to say, “Look for the things that they’re really emotional about.” He said, although he believes in climate change, he’s not a kinda skeptic. He doesn’t believe, he doesn’t trust the left to tell him the truth about climate change. Because they’ve made it like a sacred thing that you can’t criticize. And on the right, he doesn’t trust the right, talking about the free market. The ability of the invisible hand of the free market to do only good, have any good effects. Because that’s sacred to their kind of sense of self.
And how you can tell what’s sacred to somebody is the things that they’re emotional about. If you go into an environment, if you go into an environment full of people who are debating an issue extremely emotionally, then you’re in a place of irrationality. And likewise, I think if you are considering ideas that make you very, very emotional, and you can just feel those, those hot kinda feelings and rising in yourself. Then you’re in a place where you literally can’t trust your own brain to tell you the truth about them. Because it’s that, it’s that irrational part of your brain working.
I mean, we are speaking now in the context of a, some really appalling events in the Gaza Strip. And I don’t trust myself to kinda tweet about that particularly, or talk to anybody about that. ‘Cause when I think about what’s going on in the Gaza Strip, I become so emotional that I just want to start shouting, crying and things. And so that tells me – A, shut up about it in public, ’cause you can’t trust what you’re thinking. And that’s the B really – I don’t trust my own brain to think rationally on this matter. So it’s one of these things I kind of put aside for now. I try not to think about it. So I think that’s – I mean, that’s the way to tell if you’re in danger of being irrational about something.
David: Right, and I mean that’s one of the things that like – I was reading your book. I was like, “Yes, oh my God, there’s another – someone else got to the exact same place.” Which is is after a lot of, after talking about this and researching it for so long, like you develop and just– I mean, tell me if this is true for you as well? You develop, feel like a more mature sense of empathy, and more mature sense of humility. And then also, it’s made me a better user of social media, because I tend to reach for the keyboard – sometimes I even write out something about how much I don’t like or disagree with something. And then I just read it, and then delete it, and then move on throughout my. And I’m like, “Oh yeah.” That’s what it’s like to be a real adult, is to delete the thing that you were going to say.
Will: Absolutely agree, and actually I found that I don’t use Twitter anywhere near as much as I probably should for my– They tell writers these days, “You should be on Twitter all the time.” But I’m the same as you, every time I reach for Twitter, and once I kind of get weirdly and a totally rational human urge to kind of broadcast my views to the world – as if makes any difference whatsoever. I kind of stop myself. I think that’s a warning signal. If you’re feeling that strongly about something that you just want to tell everybody what you think. I think you need to step back.
And it is, and I think you mentioned the word “empathy” there too. And I think that’s really crucial, and I think that’s what’s missing in the conversation that take place between – amongst atheists, amongst rationalists, amongst skeptics. You don’t see much empathy often with people, they’re very angry and they’re very quick to point the finger at these religious people and however. And sneer at them and kind of put them down.
But I think, as you say, the more you understand about the psychology of belief, and the more you meet these people, the more that empathy grows and the more you realize that we don’t get to choose the beliefs that are most precious to us. I used to, when I was in my teens, growing up as an atheist amongst Catholics. Used to feel very superior because they were so stupid believing in the Bible, and I was so clever. Because I didn’t believe in the stuff. But of course, I’ve got no choice whether or not I believe in God, it just so happens that I don’t. I couldn’t decide suddenly to believe in God. I didn’t make a rational, conscious decision to not believe in God. The truth is, that doesn’t make me special, it just makes me a certain kind of person.
And there are disadvantages in not believing in God. If you believe in God, you’ve got an invisible best friend, which I could do with a lot of the time. Then you’ve got someone to make you feel better and forgive you when you’ve done something wrong. You’ve got paradise to look forward to. There are huge advantages, it sounds like I’m being flippant, but really I’m not. There are lots of studies which show that people with supernatural beliefs like this – they’re happier. They experience less stress. So you have to step back and ask yourself, “Who’s the smart one?”
David: Right, well that – so that brings up something. In your book, there’s this argument that you present that I think might be difficult for some people to maybe not to grasp, but to embrace. And that is – you said that on one hand you see science as our greatest achievement, as a tool we invented to save us from ourselves. To keep us from thinking in the ways we naturally think. All those things like confabulation and biases and fallacies and motivated reasoning and all that stuff. Arguing irrationally to protect those emotions that come bubbling up. But then you follow up with this, by saying that you believe that we should empathize with people who hold these fringe beliefs, and that we should sort of celebrate their eccentricities. And that, madness that does no harm sort of provides a richness to life. And I really want to connect to that idea, ’cause it feels beautiful, but how does one balance those 2 seemingly competing concepts?
Will: Well I think we already do a pretty good job of balancing those concepts, and of course this is an area of great tension. So it’s an imperfect model that we have. But we have laws, we have laws against hate speech. We’ve got, if people are found to have denied their child conventional medicine, and instead treated them with homeopathy – and that child comes to harm, that parent goes to prison. Like, we have laws in place to protect our self from people with irrational beliefs of course. Things like the anti-vaccination movement. There are a lot of sort of areas where you could argue we could do with new laws and we could do with enforcing those laws in a much more fierce manner. And I would embrace that idea. But the broader thing about people who have beliefs which don’t negatively impact other people – I absolutely, I really believe this idea that we do not want this–
I mean, okay I’ll tell you a story. In 2007, I did some, I reported, I spent a week in the world’s largest refugee camp – which is on the Somalia, Kenya border. It’s called Dadaab. And it’s where all the Somali’s have fled from the terrible war that’s going on in their country. And it’s been around for like 30 years. There are people in Dadaab who were born there, and have only ever known life in a desert refugee camp. It’s a really extraordinary place. And the vast majority of people living there are very orthodox Muslims. And the experience I had there was one I just wasn’t expecting. And I was sort of talking to these people and hanging out with these people and getting their stories.
And the impression I was left with was just this kind of – and this is the real damage to me of very strict religion and very strict thought kinda concepts. And they seek to turn everybody into the same person. So everybody that I was there – all they wanted really to talk about was the Koran, all they wanted to talk about was religion. Somebody called my fiancé at the time and she said that she was a whore because she lived with me and we weren’t married. As lefty liberal as you want to be, that stuff gets to you. And that to me, I really felt that strongly, the idea that – this is one of the great evils of religion, when it is enforced in a strict way. Is that – gives you, it gives you modes for living. “This is how you should dress. These are the things you should say. These are the things you should believe.
But you could also see that existence in some of the people who vigorously fight for kind of a Richard Dawkins view of the world, in which we’d all, we should be these rationalists and we should only go where the evidence takes us, and all these other things. There’s this willingness there to have everybody conform to this very strict regime of belief and understanding and behavior. And I just think that’s catastrophic for humanity. I spend my life as a journalist meeting really extraordinary people, with a huge range of beliefs. And I would hate there to be some magical wand – ration is one that you could wave, that would turn everybody into a person, the kind of person that might go to a James Randi conference.
And I think really, I call eccentricity the richness of our species in the book. And I really do believe that. Some of these people who hold these unusual beliefs are kind of – I mean, you want to agree with what they think and what they say. But that belief is part of their, often part of a fascinating, sometimes amusing, sometimes challenging, colorful personality. And I would not want to kind of delete that from the world.
David: Okay, I know we’re gonna run out of time, and I just want to ask a couple of quick questions here about religion. Because I’ve never ever talked about religion in my books, my podcast or anything at all. Because I usually tend to, I feel like what I talk about addresses religion without having to talk about religion. Although there is plenty of research into religion itself. But I’d like to get your view on it, because your book deals so much with belief. Do you, from your experience, do you see religion as being a different kind of belief from other beliefs? Like people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens or that believe that they were John Lennon in a past life. Is is fair to lump religion in with that kind of belief, or do you see it as a different kind of belief?
Will: I think it’s only different in the sense that it’s much more deeply rooted and profound. As I say in the book, my idea about belief, and my idea about irrationality is that we effectively all live our lives in story mode. We’re basically all playing David in the story of David and Goliath on a daily basis. We’re all the plucky hero struggling against great odds to live a better life. Now, who we cast as the villains in that story, and who we cast as our allies – bends and colors to an extraordinary degree the kinds of things we believe. We’re essentially kind of tribal people, so people– If we’re a skeptic and we’re in the skeptic tribe, and we hear people talking daftly about Rupert Sheldrake, we will be completely open to accepting particularly anything negative we hear about Rupert Sheldrake.
So it’s all about identity. And I think that religion is – I think it’s only “kinda special” because it is at such the deep root– It affects your kind of hero narrative in such a profound way. I just, it’s – yeah, I guess I just feel that it’s one of those, it’s one of those– It’s hard to explain. The way the brain understands the world is just incredibly intricate, and networks of cause and effect. That’s basically it. And that belief in religion, the belief that everything you see is created by God, that he’s basically the original cause of it and he effects everything. It’s so profound, and it’s so fundamental, and it’s so connects at the root of who somebody thinks they are and how they experience the world. That I just think it’s, it is – in a kinda facile way, an irrational belief in the same way that somebody thinks, “I’ve just seen a UFO.” But it’s just much more at the very roots of somebody’s sense of self, if that makes any sense at all?
David: Sure, yeah, yeah – no, I see…yeah. And I’ve noticed that people who aren’t skeptical of things like Noah’s Ark or a part in the Red Sea – they, and at least in my country, they often seem to be the same people who are skeptical of whether Barack Obama was born in the United States or if vaccines – they’re also skeptical that vaccines don’t cause autism. And there seems to be a lot of overlap. I mean, I’m being fair here, but there seems to be a lot of overlap between believing in something that seems fantastical, with very little evidence. While also at the same time, not believing in something that seems reasonable and supported by evidence. And it’s like this balancing act of selective skepticism. What do you make of that?
Will: Well I think it goes back to the chapter on politics. I was really, I’ve always been curious. Because it seems like such a weird thing. Why there are these clusters of belief on the left and on the right. Why might somebody be critical of Israeli foreign policy, and at the same time be supportive of higher taxes? These things have nothing to do with each other. And yet, you get these correlations with the same people, these same things. And so I dug deep down into that, and what I found was that the neuroscience of it is that well that, the genetics of it. Is that, they reckon there’s around 1000 genes that influence whether we turn out left or right. And of course, obviously genes are only part of that picture. But there’s around 1000. And what those genes influences are – is how scared we are, how fearful we are.
And they think that people on the right tend to be more fearful in general. And if you follow that kind of logic through, it makes sense. So we’re born with our brains in this kind of expectant state, with a likelihood, with a kind of more fearful state. So we’re gonna be like you would in a family that shares that kind of make up – who will kind of bring us up with those beliefs. We will, probably if we’re on the right or live in the country, because that’s a bit less scary in a small community – it’s not like the big city where there’s so much, so many other people and there’s so much going on. We’ll read the right newspapers, we’ll go to the certain schools, we’ll go to church. And everything then will reinforce this kind of rightward, this rightward drift.
And so, I think that’s the way that you can see like a certain kind of brain, will…alight on certain kind of ideas. If you dig down into fear, the people who are fearful, they want to – they don’t like change. They don’t like novelty, they’re scared of it. So they like structure and order and hierarchy. They like institutions like the army. They like history and tradition, because they don’t like change. I mean, that’s why they they’re called conservatives, because the want to conserve everything. The liberals on the other hand who do like change and want to kick down on all the hierarchy’s. They live in the cities, they like change, they like novelties. They like going out into the world and exploring.
So I think that’s the way that you can understand how kind of one personality trait, and that’s fear – can then kinda fan out and affect all these other beliefs. And I think it’s the same with people who’d like, “I hang out with those neo-Nazi’s. One of them was into his organic food and his anti-vaccination.” I think, I mean I have not read any kind of studies on this. But my instinct on it, from what I’ve learnt is that perhaps if you have – if you are extremely fearful, you are paranoid. You are extremely mistrustful of authority. Then, and of the kind of views of the orthodoxies. And it makes sense that you are going to be distrustful of what the orthodoxies say about the holocaust and whether it really happened or not. You’ve got to be mistrustful about what the government tells you about vaccinations. That kind of distrust can bleed into all sorts of different areas.
David: Yeah, and it feels like a – it makes total sense genetically. I mean like, there’s a – the person who is willing to — I mean, we all have recognized – even like in a pet, there are animals that are standoffish and are hesitant and skittish. And then there are those that just approach humans when really probably shouldn’t do that. And so we know that genetically it makes sense, that in human beings there’s a strain of us who are open – maybe when we shouldn’t be. And there are some out there, those of us who are skittish. And evolutionary speaking, the skittish thing probably makes a lot more sense. But civilization gives us the opportunity to be more open. And I think that, like that’s why you see – that’s why civilization progresses so often in the direction of people who are open to change. But for that very reason that civilization is only possible because that allows for the expression of that genetic profile. At least that’s my speculation.
Will: Yeah, yeah. I think – as Jonathan, he pointed out – we need both. It’s good to– The right and the conservatives get in. And they’re probably just get in for a certain amount of time and kind of try and maintain order and structure. And then they give way to the liberals who come in and try and kick everything down. And everybody gets a turn, and we end up hopefully, roughly going in the right direction in a kinda very general way. But also, it’s just the idea of it’s kinda self-reinforcing.
So for my own personality, my own personality, my own struggles on a daily basis. I really struggle to make friends. I’m quite an isolated, lonely person. And that creates a general mindset of – I don’t really want when I’m going out on the street, I don’t really want people to talk to me. I don’t – if people are kinda friendly to me in a store, I kind of shrink back from that. And because they can read that on my face, then the response I get from people when I’m meeting them is generally mistrustful and hostile. And so it reinforces that idea that the world is a kinda scary place, and you don’t really want to hang out with people, because they’re scary.
And I only really noticed this since I married my wife. And we’d be out in certain situations and I’d have an interaction with somebody. And they’d go and I’d – and it would go badly. And I’d say to my wife, “My God, that person was so rude.” And they were like, she was like, “Well they were reacting to you. It was that was being rude first, and then they were rude back.” And so you can see how – that’s invisible to me, I didn’t think I was being rude. And it’s the same, it’s just the idea that we create the worlds that we live in by the kind of implicit beliefs that we have. It’s self-reinforcing. And I think it’s very true of irrational beliefs as well, is that the more we embrace certain mindsets, the more those mindsets will feel true and to kind of inadvertently almost prove themselves to be true.
David: Right, right. Well let me end this one sort of really bizarre question, and that is – and obviously I could talk about this for 17 days straight, but the– Okay, so thanks to social media, we find ourselves either involved in arguments or spectating on arguments about things like climate change and gun control and gay marriage and yada yada yada. All these wedge issues. And why do you think facts don’t work on people?
Will: Okay, I’ll try and answer this as briefly as possible, but I tell the story in the book about this guy who’s a climate change guy. And his name’s Lord Christopher Monckton. And he’s a British aristocrat. And he’s a big hit on the tea party movement in the States. He was a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, who was basically our Regan in the 80’s – very right wing guy.
Now this is, I got to the point in the book when I interviewed Monckton, where I began to realize that – talking about science is kind of pointless actually. Digging into the facts, digging into the kind of the rights and wrongs of the certain facts. And what you need to do is find out how somebody experiences the world. In other words, find out their hero-making. What was the story that their brain is telling them?
And so, I just sat down with Lord Monckton and I just told him, “Tell me a story. Tell me about your life, you’re heroes and villians.” And he said, “Well, I was born, I went to– I was born to exception parents,” he said. Of course, he’s a Lord, saying that he’s born into extremely wealthy aristocracy. He went to school at Harrow School, very posh school. At a time when the British Empire was still a thing. And he said, he’s very proud. He told me that his school song was Harrow School to Ride and Rule. I mean, they were literally brought up to believe that they were gonna be the masters of the universe.
And then the Second World War happened. And what happened was that in fighting a Second World War, Britain lost. It cost us a fortune, it broke the country. I mean this is actually true. And we had to go to America, to the US kind of kinda campaigning afterwards. And after they got this massive loan of money just to survive, because defending Europe basically, it destroyed us for decades.
But so, this is where Lord Monckton’s story kicks in. And so, one of the things – the main things we were wanting to pay for was the welfare state. So it’s social security, national insurance, this kinda thing. Which is obviously a left wing idea. And so, he blames the left. He says, “It’s the left’s fault that we lost our British empire, which was so fabulous and marvelous for the world.” And then we went into the cold war, and the communists came along. And of course the communists are also on the left, they’re very jealous of the people, the capitalists. And because they’re so jealous, they want to destroy capitalism. That’s simply the reason. It’s not because they want social justice, it’s not because they don’t want inequality – it’s because they’re jealous and they want to destroy capitalism.
There were two ways they did this. The first was by organizing in secret, or the miner strikes that we had in the UK. Because they wanted to destroy our energy infrastructure. And the other was by concocting this alliance of scientists and atheists that would spread misinformation about the environments and about the world in such a way that it would cost industry and business crazy amounts of money, and it would basically fall to pieces. And so they came up with all these lies about the effects of fertilizers, pesticides. All these lies about the hole in the ozone layer, climate change.
And he said, “Even though the Berlin wall was now falling and communism is now over, the UN and all the other international institutions who are trying to fight climate change–” He said, “They’re still fighting from the KGB playbook. And the reason they’re doing that is because they want to take over the world.” He literally believes the United Nations has a secret plan to take over the world. And Lord Monckton is one these, he’s a plucky David – fighting Goliath. Going around the world, fighting all this skepticism he’s getting, fighting all the people making fun of him. And flying the flag for truth and justice. And that is that climate change is a completely harmless phenomena. That’s why he believes in climate change.
Now I could’ve sat down with him for two hours and talked about this graph and this paper and that paper. And run with this complete illusion that the reason Lord Monckton believes that climate change isn’t a problem is to do with anything like facts or rationality. Why he believes in climate change, why he believes what he does about climate change is because it’s completely essential to his sense of self and who he is. It’s only when you take a step back and look at somebody’s entire story of their life – the way they understand the world, and their place within it and their fights or struggles. It’s only then that you can actually see why they believe what they believe, and why facts don’t work.
Because in the face that story in his head, that incredible, colorful, emotional James Bond story that he lives in the middle of. Some paper coming out isn’t gonna change that. Some guy on MSNBC saying, “That’s [?].” Scientists think climate change is a real thing, that’s not gonna change that. Nothing’s gonna change that. No fact is gonna change that. Because if it was to change, the entire sense of self would fall to pieces. And he’s an extreme example, and the book’s full of extreme examples – simply because they’re easier to talk about and explain, the bigger the item the bigger the shadow.
But we’re all Lord Monckton to a certain extent. We all have these passionate beliefs, that we believe passionately because they nourish and enrich our sense of who we are and our sense of ourselves as good people, fighting a noble fight in the world. And that’s what we have to be suspicious of.
David: I know, and you do a great job of showing in the book that – when you talk about the science of it, and the neuroscience and the psychology of our personal narratives. And you call it the hero maker. Our brain is a hero maker. You describe, when people get in these arguments, where we’re trying to make the other person see things – not our way, we try to make people change their minds to not think the way they think anymore. And you call, you say that it has an essential violence to it – that it’s like higher than evangelism. And it really made me think back of it. That’s why I’ve abandoned doing– I try to not mention, I try not to attack anyone on social media. I try, I have like a – this Bushido code thing of saying– Of, “I’m only gonna talk about things that I love and tell people about things that I like, instead of this other thing around.” Because I don’t – not necessarily because I don’t have things that I disagree with or want to attack things that I don’t like. It’s that I know that I’m gonna get in that mode where facts won’t work on me, and they work on the other person either. And neither one of us is willing just to say, “Well I believe this, I have an opinion, but maybe it’s wrong, but I don’t know what the–”
Will: Yeah, that’s it. I mean and it’s just that simple thought experiment which kind of occurred to me at the very beginning of it all. And that’s that I know logically that I’m not right about everything. I can’t be. Because if I’m right about everything, it means that I’m unique in the world, like I’m the best person in the world. If I’m literally right about everything. So okay, I can accept I’m wrong about probably quite a lot. But then when I interrogate and detail, “What am I wrong about?” I just discount them all. “Well I’m not wrong about this, I’m not wrong about that. I’m definitely not wrong about that.” It’s impossible for us to see our own biases and prejudices. We’re all biased and prejudiced, but we’re all basically incapable of understanding what they are. So, and as soon as you understand that, it kind of requires this humility which you’re describing, and a kind of reluctance.
It’s almost, you need a way – I almost want to say “cowardly.” And it’s probably had a negative effect on me as a journalist, because when I’m writing pieces now, I’m very reluctant to have that kind of stride and a viewpoint which is gonna get page views and people tweeting about my piece. Because I just think, “Well what if I’m wrong about this? I could be wrong about this.” And you almost find yourself kind of paralyzed by this notion of, “God, no matter how strongly I feel about this, I don’t want to have it published in this national newspaper – because, what if I’m wrong?” So it’s a kind of, very weird place to be. But I completely admire your position.
David: Oh no it’s – I don’t, I fail a lot. But I, that’s like I had to actually say to myself, “This is something that I do now. This is like a code of life, only talk about things you like. Do not–” ‘Cause the worst thing in the world is on a Facebook page, is on your Facebook page – seeing all these people, a non-stop stream of, “I hate this. I hate this. I hate this.” And a lot of it is just tribal, trying to get people in your – proving that you’re in their in group and stuff. And I’m like, “I don’t want to, I just can’t.” Because I’m bad at it. I’m the kinda person that will think about it for 4 or 5 days. I’ll be in the shower, and I’ll be like, “Okay. No, no, no. Okay well this how – actually I can get ’em. This is how I’ll get them. This is exactly how I–” And it’s just–
Will: Yeah, that’s it. That’s it, it becomes completely obsessive. And if you’re – as you are, I’m sure– We’re self-employed writers. If you get into an argument on Twitter, which doesn’t have to be much, because I just don’t get into it very much for these reasons. But if I get into an argument on Twitter, that’s me gone for the day – ’cause I can’t think about anything else.
Will: And Twitter is so bad for these things, because it presses all those buttons. I mean the first thing about Twitter is that every exchange is public. And not only is it public, it’s public to the people that you admire most – and they all can see it. It has 140 characters, so you can’t do those really absolutely essential good manner bits. “I hate to disagree. I’m sorry, I see what you’re saying.” But you can’t do any of that stuff. So it’s almost custom designed to create these massive rows with people that probably wouldn’t – hopefully wouldn’t happen if you were sober and you met them under normal circumstances. I mean, social media, it’s not encouraging to kind of reasonable or rational debate at all.
David: Well look, thank you for letting me keep you for longer than I said I would do this for. But, and I could talk about this forever. I really appreciate you coming on the show. If people want to find you, want to keep up with your work – how’s, what is the easiest way to do that?
Will: Well, my Twitter is just @wstorr, and I generally put links to all my kinda latest stories on my website. Which is just willstorr.com. So very simple.
David: And what are you working on next?
Will: Well, I’m actually about to start on the next book, which is gonna be about the self. So that’s kinda daunting and a bit scary.
David: Well, I look forward to it. I’m sorry to interrupt you. I look forward to it. This really is to me the best book that has been written so far about these topics. Because it will – if you’re the kind of person who buys these books, it will challenge you in a way that you did not expect to be challenged. And I think it will expand your world view in a way that we all need it expanded. So I really, I really thank you for writing the book.
Will: Oh no, thank you for your comments. Really, they mean an awful lot.
David: Thanks so much man.