Nick Romeo (The connections between ancient Greece and today)
In this episode of the Judgment Call Podcast Nick Romeo and I talk about:
- Nick’s journey of becoming a journalist and philosopher and what journalism means today in the times of social media?
- Is the criticism of the millenials similar to the ‘elders of Athens’ criticism of Socrates?
- How much of an education should we expect from an ‘average citizen’?
- Is the ‘modern state’ and religion a good way to improve citizens behavior subtly?
- What Plato’s journey to Sicily tell us about the success of Greek asceticism.
- How intense was the exchange between the Israelites and the ancient Greeks? Why were their views on ‘laws’ so different?
- How are the current and ancient Greece connected?
- an much more!
You may watch this episode on Youtube – The Judgment Call Podcast Episode #35 – Nick Romeo (The connection between ancient Greece and today).
Nick Romeo is a journalist who writes about science, culture, and ideas for a wide range of publications, including the New Yorker, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Slate, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, The Atlantic, New Republic, The Daily Beast, The MIT Technology Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, and many others.
You may reach Nick via LinkedIn.
Welcome to the Judgement Call Podcast, a podcast where I bring together some of the most curious minds on the planet. Risk takers, adventurers, travelers, investors, entrepreneurs, and simply mindbogglers. Find all episodes of this show, sit to go to Spotify, iTunes, or YouTube, or go to our website, JudgementCallPodcast.com. If you like this show, please consider leaving a review on iTunes or subscribe to us on YouTube. This episode of the Judgement Call Podcast is sponsored by Mighty Travels Premium. Full disclosure, this is my business. We do at Mighty Travels Premium is to find the airfare deals that you really want. Thousands of subscribers have saved up to 95% in the airfare. Those include $150 roundtrip tickets to Hawaii for many cities in the U.S. or $600 life lead tickets in business class from the U.S. to Asia or $100 business class life lead tickets from Africa roundtrip all the way to Asia. In case you didn’t know, about half the world is open for business again and accepts travelers. Most of those countries are in South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. To try out Mighty Travels Premium, go to mightytravels.com slash mtp, or if that’s too many letters for you, simply go to mtp, the number four, and the letter u.com to sign up for your 30 day free trial. I’m here today with Nick Romeo, and Nick is a journalist who writes for different science, culture, and other publications including The New Yorker, The Rolling Stone, The Christian Science Monitor, and many others. Thanks for coming on The Judgement Call broadcast. Welcome. My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Absolutely. I appreciate you making this work. I know it’s quite late in Athens. Yeah, no worries. And it’s much earlier here in Costa Rica. So I just brought that background. For you today, I’m really curious. We talked before, and there were a bunch of avenues of thinking that I thought we should really discuss on the wider format here on the podcast. And my first question is, you know, I’m curious, you grew up from what I learned in the Bay Area, and then you started becoming a journalist. And now you really have this enormous reach that you have with your essays. I’ve read through a day on your website. I read through most of your essays in the last couple of days, and I thought they’re excellent. And you cover a wide range of topics. So how did that happen? How did you decide to become a journalist? And how did you maintain such a wide focus, so to speak, to cover so many different topics? Sure. Yeah. Not that it’s an important correction, but I grew up in Colorado mostly, and then only moved to the Bay Area as an adult with my wife, who was doing graduate school out there. But yeah, so I grew up in Colorado. I went to university in Chicago. After that, I ended up in New York City for a few years, where I worked at a nonprofit. I also worked at a hedge fund. You know, each had its own. That usually goes together, right? Yeah. Nonprofit and hedge funds. That’s how Wall Street goes these days. Odd conjunction. Anyhow, I had always been interested in philosophy. I’d read a lot of it as an undergraduate. And in particular, I was interested in Greek philosophy. So I went back to graduate school and got my ancient Greek good enough to get into a master’s degree in classics and then spent about half of my twenties reading ancient texts as much as possible in the original. So I got two master’s degrees. And then by the end of that, I was kind of sick of academia. It didn’t strike me at any rate as like a venue for serious intellectual work. Of course, there’s some dazzling exceptions, but the sort of people I was encountering were not very inspiring. I wasn’t interested in a doctorate after two different master’s degrees. So I had begun doing journalism while I was still a graduate student. You know, in fact, I’d already started back in New York City when I was supposed to be at work at the hedge fund often I would kind of take freelance assignments. So anyway, I had some background as a kind of reporter. But in grad school, I started doing essays and reviews. Really, you know, my motivation there was to try to write in a more accessible, but still intellectually serious vein. I felt like there was a bit of a bifurcation on the one hand between academics writing in very obscure esoteric language that often just felt like a kind of inside baseball who knows the jargon game. On the other hand, you know, there were people writing for the public, but they often sort of didn’t seem to have much education in the humanities or history. So, you know, like with the ambition of someone in their 20s, I was just like, oh, great, I’ll just fix it and do both. So I started trying to build a portfolio of clips while I was still in graduate school. And by the time I finished, I sort of had enough connections to go full time as a freelancer, which I then have been doing now for close to a decade, you know, and in terms of the range of topics that to some extent is just like one of the pleasures of journalism is you get to be a generalist, you get to sort of indulge a lot of interests. Like there were years when I was doing a lot of book reviews, I might read 50 books on whatever topics seemed interesting, right? And it could be anything from literary fiction to popular science, you know, I might read a book about like the history of algorithms. And then the next week, I would read something about like World War Two, and it would be this kind of like romantic historical fiction. You know, in terms of my essays, there, I think there is a more sort of coherent, although perhaps still a morphous set of interests that seem to cluster around on the one hand ancient Greece, and political philosophy. And then on the other hand, sort of literary and intellectual approaches to current events, right? So trying to have an analysis, I mean, I don’t think we were recording yet, but I liked what you were saying about like, trying to get beneath these sort of very seductive surface stories that float around in the culture and trying to understand the sort of Freudian on sort of unconscious of the culture. So I don’t at all aspire or claim to have achieved that aspiration. But I think it’s like, it’s interesting to try to harness sort of more substantial intellectual tools in the service of analyzing current events, basically. Yeah, that’s fascinating. And I think it’s, it’s, it’s amazing that journalism gives people that option to be to be that open. I’ve always been myself. I wrote articles for a couple of newspapers, but I never really pursued a journalism career. I always felt I, I’m a person and I can’t change myself as much that is really happy with going into lots of different topics, knowing pretty much a little bit about everything. There’s a few topics where I know a bit more than the average person, so to speak, and I can read dozens of books. But it’s really hard for me to do, to kind of keep narrowing and narrowing down my focus, which is kind of what people expect of you, you know, in college, past college times. And I studied law and I thought it’s fascinating. And then I was in it and I thought, oh, psychology is great too. So I took some psychology courses and then I realized, oh, economics is actually what I need. So I kind of shifted to economics for a little bit. So I had trouble focusing my mind and having and enjoying this focus. It sounds like you, you had a similar experience and then journalism fulfilled that. For me, it was entrepreneurship that kind of gave me that opportunity. Yes, I had to look into technology. But on the other hand, you know, it’s a lot, there’s a lot about how do you, how do you survive in a certain landscape and how do you navigate sales? How do you deal with other people? How do you hire people? There’s a lot of psychology. So I always felt there was a match made in heaven for me when there was a high demand for entrepreneurship. That’s kind of, I’m complaining a little bit. This isn’t as big a demand in that generalist role as much anymore. It’s more the technology focused entrepreneurs. What do you think happened due to journalism in the last five to 10 years from the outside and you are much more an insider? I mean, I’m an idiot there. But when I look at it from the outside, it seems like it has this enormous pressure coming from social media that kind of creates these trends, these, you know, I call them, you know, these narratives that kind of seem idiotic from the outside, but they get a lot of engagement on social media, right? And it gets millions of likes. And then the topic dies down a week later. And then nobody remembers a week later. So there’s something strange that happens in social media, but it seems to really resonate with the audience. And on the other hand, we have journalism, which seems to, it lost the print revenue, right? And it has trouble finding its way and monetizing its way in this social media world. And what we all feel, and I’m curious if you agree, is that the most, so you either had to concord with this and kind of go along with the Facebook algorithm and hack people’s minds and coming up with other crazy narratives. I’m not saying it’s fake, but it’s just crazy. Or if you didn’t do this, you really are risking basically going out of business pretty quickly. Most of these publications have gone out of business. Is that accurate? Or do you feel, no, there’s way more to journalism these days? I think there’s a lot of truth in the picture you’re painting. I mean, certainly the influence of social media is hard to overstate. Often journalists and editors, we’re seeing this now with Thumbstack, where they’re just leaving publications altogether and saying, I can make more money as a kind of private contractor. So the model there seems to be, you build a following of 500,000 or so people, that’s on the high end. But once you have your dedicated fans, you kind of leave the nest of the home publication and then just charge people directly to subscribe. I think it cuts both ways as well. Publications are often then more inclined to hire or work with people who have enormous social media feeds. And like you pointed out, all of this ultimately is related at a deep level to the business model. If you don’t have revenue from classifieds, or if you have dwindling revenue from subscriptions, then you want to monetize every bit of advertising you can. And that means sort of getting more eyeballs on every article. And it absolutely shapes everything from how a headline is crafted to which articles are assigned in the first place, to like what journalists are expected to do. I mean, you know, there used to be reporters who would have, and there still are some, but there used to be many more reporters, I think, who would spend months immersing themselves in the cultivation of sources, the reading of background material, maybe on the ground reporting in half a dozen locations around the country. That’s largely giving way to a kind of quick hit model where, you know, you feed the outrage machine, you feed, you sort of surf along the tops of the waves and say, well, what’s trending today? You hack the algorithm, as you put it, not to say that there’s not still deep substantive reporting. But you know, it’s a kind of a feedback loop, right? Because audiences are also more and more accustomed to a kind of skimming, shallow sort of reading. I mean, I think here, maybe Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows, from about 12 years ago now about the kind of superficial reading that the internet encourages. And I mean, certainly Twitter seems to be like the culmination of that combination of superficiality and outrage. And it shapes news in all kinds of ways. I mean, we could go in a lot of directions with this topic. I’m happy to sort of go right like on it. I mean, I definitely want an expert opinion. It seems like you’ve seen a lot of editing rooms, maybe not necessarily from the inside, but you’ve been involved in so many different publications, right? And they hire you for this specific essay. But I guess, how much of an interaction do you have with different newsrooms or people who decide, with editors who decide if that essay will be published? And will they give you directions or they basically say, do whatever you want. And I read through it. If it’s not terrible, then we’ll publish it. Well, what is their expectation and how hard it is for you to, and I don’t know if these rules exist in the space of journalism where you’re in. How many of those rules are being made up on the fly and you have to comply with them? You have to change things around or you have to write a totally different essay in order to get it approved? It’s a good question. It’s hard to answer in compelling generalizations because it does really differ pretty dramatically by publication. It also differs pretty dramatically by the type of article. I do a mix of reported pieces where I’m functioning in a more traditional journalistic role and then I also do quite a few essays or kind of think pieces where I’m trying to illuminate some topic, often making an argument, sometimes in just a more informative way. Without naming particular publications or throwing particular ones under the bus as tempting as that absolutely is, I will say that there’s a huge range in quality among editors. I mean, you have everything from people who seem to almost read nothing but social media, who literally seem borderline illiterate culturally. Maybe they’re right out of school. Maybe they didn’t read a lot in their undergraduate education. Maybe they’re an unpaid intern. You certainly have some interactions with folks where you’re confused about why they have that job as cultural arbiter, a powerful institution. On the other hand, you have people who are incredibly sort of erudite, thoughtful, who can shape an argument with incredible skill, who are committed to giving sort of close hands on feedback, mentoring writers. It’s a huge range. On more pessimistic days, I sort of fear that the tide is generally shifting in favor of the marginally educated 22 year old with large social media feeds. But I think in reality, the picture is pretty complicated and nuanced and it varies a lot by publication. For professional reasons, I probably will refrain from actually going into which publications are which. We can do that off the record, maybe, if you like after. No. I think I can guess. Maybe a lot of listeners can guess. When you see the range of publications that we only noted a couple earlier, but the range of publications you write for. I mean, it’s strange to hear. Do you feel the journalism in its, you know, the ethos of research, the ethos of a balanced debate where both sides get to listen, get to see their arguments heard with a way they, it’s as, you know, it’s fresh and it’s as much as possible not fake news. It’s kind of my description of the old school journalism might be all wrong, but that’s kind of how I remember it. And it definitely wasn’t when I grew up. So when I grew up, you know, all newspapers were 100% fake news because it was East in Germany. You knew that the opposite of what you read was actually true. So that was kind of true, right? It was just, it was reversed. Sometimes it left you in the middle of, you know, not everything is black and white. So you still didn’t know where the gray zone actually is and where it shifts. So the newspapers really were, but not even worth their paper. They were printed on because there was no use in reading them. Do you feel that is something that is just this journalism ethos that’s completely, it’s going to vanish completely or it’s going to become a real niche. So I think we all know that this trajectory goes towards social media right now. And social media seems to become dumber and dumber, right? So we started with Facebook, which wasn’t great, but it was relatively long form and went down to Twitter. And now we go to TikTok. That’s what’s great and taking off. And I think the next one is not going to be, it’s not going to be very intellectualized by all means. Who knows? But I mean, the past would suggest definitely, do you feel there is a niche for this kind of old school journalism or it will eventually die out because it’s, you know, and definitely in a newspaper way, it’s not, it doesn’t make any business sense. And maybe it will work on Substack or it does work in podcasts, right? Where long form podcasts have taken off and there is a niche for making a real argument. It’s an interesting question. I don’t claim any particular expertise as a sort of prognosticator about the future. My hunch is similar to yours, that in general, there does seem to be a social media abetted race to the bottom. But that despite that, there are kind of pockets and often very large ones with dedicated readerships at certain publications where, you know, people are willing to spend more time on the site to read long form articles, maybe to listen to them. You know, most publications now give you the option just to listen to articles. So I think there’s, there’s some appetite for that and it’ll remain in a way that’s related to like education, which is something I write about quite a bit as well. And, you know, I think the evisceration of humanities curriculums over the last 30 years is like an interesting parallel here, where, you know, in some sense, you need people who have learned to read closely and carefully with sustained attention to complicated texts, right? So if there’s not a kind of prior pipeline, so to speak, that is creating thoughtful skilled readers, it’s perhaps a little unfair to say, oh, well, it’s all just, it’s all just Twitter or TikTok. I mean, I think these issues start much further upstream with, you know, how do young people spend their free time, ages like five to 20, right? I mean, do they have you read a few hundred books just for pleasure by the time you’re in university or have you read maybe three under duress because you had to for a class and you memorized a lot of, you know, tricks and tips to maybe just barely do well enough on the standardized tests. I mean, I think comparing those two humans that there’s not a lot of doubt in my mind about which becomes the dedicated reader of serious journalism, but also serious fiction and nonfiction, and which person is like the consumer of certain other parts of the internet. Yeah. Well, I don’t want to blame it on journalism, right? You make it sound like I want to blame it on the journalists. I think the journalists are driven by bigger market forces, right? And if the forces tell them to do balance reporting, they will. If the forces tell them to do a hit piece on social media, they will do that too, right? I mean, some won’t, but there will be someone who will do it and these people will sustain if that’s what sells, right? So that’s not what I’m trying to say. And I fully agree with you that this is a societal change that happens. And the question is, and I have the same debate with my children, but they obviously are not interested in books, right? They’re interested in social media. And I’m trying to find out is this old school model that we had where we basically say, okay, this is the blueprint where everyone has to go through. And this is the blueprint of your life, but I call it the boomer model. So you grow up with the schooling for 10 to 12 years, and then you go to college, and then you look for this career path. And sooner or more or less, this will be what’s true for most people in the last 50, 60, 70 years. And that required a huge amount of knowledge outside of your own expertise. But most people are actually not interested in anything else, but the really narrow sense of current interest, often driven by emotion, right? If you ask them, they’re just not interested in it. I mean, it’s like, you know, you go by an ice cream store and buy a seller place, you probably won’t hit up the seller place unless you really are into salads, right? So 99% will hit the ice cream place. And that obviously seems really weird. And if we forget the knowledge of the ancients, the upside for that is to these people, my children, they have so much time for their own really narrow education, right? They don’t have books that’s not even in their list. But they have skills, say what the kids do on YouTube, right? So the way they can show up on YouTube, they have very well developed mental ability to talk very well, they have graphic abilities, they can find information really quickly, way better than most people in their 40s can. So my doubt is a little bit, are we seeing this as kind of a general decline of the population that the ancients would talk about, right? Or are we seeing a specialization because we live in this hive and we just, nobody can keep up with all this information anymore. That was already hard before, but now the internet, I mean, we’re just flattening out our brain is just not able to cope. So the only way to cope for the young people is to just say, okay, forget about all this. And I really only go into my specialized niche and I trust the hive. Yeah, no, I mean, I see what you mean. I think maybe the distinctions are orthogonal. Like I can certainly imagine tradeoffs between breadth and depth or specialization and generality. But I think kind of cutting across that is a separate distinction, which is sort of regardless of whether you’re doing one thing or five things, what’s the sort of depth and power of the attention that you bring to that, right? And has it been fractured by certain kinds of addictive technologies since the young age? What are the kind of intellectual habits that you’ve cultivated that, that enable deep engagement with any topic, whatever its scope of generality? Yeah, yeah, it’s you learn in order to learn later, right? So it’s, I’m not sure this really it’s somewhat is the question is, did it ever resonate with people? So I don’t know, we can, we can jump a little into your, your amazing knowledge into the ancient Greeks and the ancient philosophy. And we know we, one of the biggest criticisms by the rulers of Athens, were obviously about Socrates and said, well, with your talk, and you’re touching topics that we feel are sanctioned, but your talk puts everything into question, and you’re ruining the youth of Athens. So we got to get rid of you. Please stop talking. And if not, we’ll just go somewhere else, right? And it kind of sounds like a bit like what, you know, what we just talked about, it’s kind of the youth is the problem. They’re not ready to buy our products anymore. So it’s the youth. That’s the problem. It’s, it’s, and maybe some, they were badly influenced by someone, but it’s definitely not us. Hmm. Yeah, I was with you and tell the final analogy. I’m not sure I quite, I quite follow what you mean there are. So are we in the position of the elders of Athens complaining about the youth? And if so, who’s the modern Socrates there? Well, we will, the modern Socrates would be social media, right? So it’s someone who goes out there ruins the youth. And we are, we are the, we are the elders of Athens and we say, oh, we just don’t need the social media and everything will be fine. So just go away. So let’s just ban them. Like we wouldn’t do this, but just let’s, let’s make this, this model, this stop model. And, but I don’t think it would, right? So the social media is an outburst of the problems that society had before information overload. Well, maybe it’s worth pausing on the analogy between social media and Socrates. I mean, often what Socrates did was to tell you exactly what you did not want to hear to force you to confront contradictions in your reasoning, sort of subtle hypocrisies in your self presentation. Social media seems does precisely the opposite. Namely, it flatters your vanity. It shows, it shows you sort of, it allows you to curate a attractive kind of ideal version of yourself and project it to the world. You know, I think also, you know, social media as a kind of term doesn’t really seem like, it seems a bit like a category error to say that that the entire nexus of social media with its millions of users across diverse platforms is like Socrates. I mean, I see your point to some extent that sure, maybe one could argue there’s a inherent grumbling that comes with a certain number of years about the kids these days. But I do wonder about whether, you know, perhaps a more accurate, I mean, I do think about this, like who is a modern Socrates? I mean, one person I find very interesting is the philosopher Michael Sandel, who teaches a justice course at Harvard that’s been viewed, something like 30 million times around the world. There’s something about going out into the Agora, so to speak, and maybe now that is YouTube, where you can reach people in that venue. Now, there’s not the same kind of emotional reach where you actually look into the eyes of someone you spend as much time as you want with them. You know, social media is also very dedicated to fractioning time into monetized units. Socrates, by contrast, never took money for his conversations. He worked pro bono, and he also was famously en scollet, as they say. He was at leisure, right? He would talk to you for as long as you wanted. There was never this sense of like, oh, I have my next appointment now, or like my time is worth $300 an hour, so this conversation is over. But anyway, that’s all a bit wandering. In terms of like a modern Socrates analog, I think on the one hand, you could look at people like Sandel, who is very skillful at taking, for instance, smug Harvard undergraduates on the one hand. But on the other hand, just people across America. He’ll go to these public philosopher events, like I saw him do one in Texas, where he was talking about immigration. He had first generation Mexican immigrants. He had very deep red Trump supporters. He had them all in the same room. And there’s a sort of commitment to reasoning there, where however much you disagree with each other, the illegitimate move is simply ad hominem name calling or outbursts of emotion, right? There’s a sort of philosophical consistency to his approach such that I mean, someone like like Sandel might be a sort of distant echo of Socrates. I think another thing you might think of in terms of Socrates is actually the few journalists who are doing work that actually makes people uncomfortable. So sure, you know, the New York Times publishes lots of articles with headlines like how to make yours chicken tastes more succulent. But okay, when they have paid the bills and get more serious and they actually run a piece that makes people question how they’re living their lives and change how they live their lives, there I think you can see journalists functioning as Socrates. I mean, it’s worth remembering here Socrates famous analogy from the apology where he compares the city of Athens to a horse and himself to a fly. So his job is to sting the city out of its lazy torpor to kind of be its conscience. And I mean, to me, so much of social media is in fact, sinking us deeper into that lazy lack of self reflective knowledge. So those are just some kind of rambling thoughts on modern analogues to Socrates maybe. I like it. I like it. I mean, I think it’s it’s it’s really eliminates what the role of philosophy and I think when you see yourself as an interlocutor, right? So when you that’s kind of the idea of also journalism that you feel like you you by putting out arguments in favor and against, you really can questions people’s motives and you you end up coming to a better decision. I think this is this is old school journalism, right? But it’s not it’s not something that that sells as much anymore, probably never had. That’s the good the good question is, if you have an alternative that sells much better and speaks directly to the limbic brain. And I don’t know how the old Greeks dealt with this because that that must have been something. There’s a lot of influences in old Greece that also talked to the limbic brain, right? So there’s always something more flashy. There’s always something that better wine, right? Do you think you know, Socrates didn’t really convince in its time, he didn’t convince the majority of opinions, it seems like at least right. So he was eventually killed. They tried to banish him and then they told him please go and he didn’t go and he kind of took the martyr Dom step. And what do you think Greece in its that did the model that the question would be and that’s the hypothesis is when we look up things that really motivate us and we as as you know, as apes, we’re really into give us sugar, give us fat and give us reproduction and then we’re good to go, right? And then just we start we start again next day. Why do you think at certain periods, you know, the flashiness kind of one and then we feel there is periods and it’s hard to look back and do these times would actually happen when reasoning actually one. Do you see this in the ancients and how do you feel that that moved over the Indian into modern times? Yeah, it’s such an interesting question. I absolutely do see the dynamic and antiquity and I think you’re right to point out that the appeal to the limbic brain is nothing new. In fact, you can see it in a dialogue like the Gorgias where Plato has Socrates reflecting on the appeal of certain sophists and their rhetoric. And in fact, he uses an analogy which is maybe consciously or not, but just the one you were using, you were talking about ice cream versus salad. So there’s a famous metaphor in the Gorgias where he Socrates is talking about this seductive appeal of certain kinds of speech and he compares a skillful speaker to a pastry chef. So basically someone who makes sweets or candies. He says, well, of course, this person, if they’re speaking to an audience of children, and then you compare that person to someone who’s telling the children the truth, like, namely this, if you eat too much of it, your teeth will fall out and you’ll have diabetes and be miserable in the long run. The children will vote for the candy maker, the pastry chef. This is Socrates analogy for rhetoric. If you have people who do the verbal equivalence of fat and sugar and sweets, you know, a certain audience every time is going to say, yes, give me more of that. So then there’s there’s sort of two questions that that raises. One is like, how do you cultivate an audience that is more resistant to those seductions? And I think here the analogy is helpful again, because in the dialogue Plato says, well, you’re imagining the pastry chef speaking to an audience of children. So presumably, at some point between childhood and adulthood, a certain process of education occurs whereby we gain a temporal horizon, we gain maturity of perspective, we also gain though habits whereby we actually learn to take pleasure in the healthier alternatives, we learn to take pleasure in, I mean, to switch from the food to the philosophical register, the act of reasoning itself, the discovery of truth itself, these actually become pleasurable goods in their own right. And I think that the sort of subtlety, one of the subtleties of Plato is that it’s not actually an entirely austere vision where we’re somehow denying ourselves the pleasures of, you know, sweets, it’s more that those pleasures suddenly attach to different objects, right, because of a process of education. So for instance, imagine imagine a speaker talking to the American Medical Association and saying, yeah, if you just have all this junk food you want, you’re going to be very happy, right, because it’s the AMA rather than a group of children, the outcome is going to be very different if they’re voting on whether or not to ratify that speaker. So I think what Socrates envisions is a sort of, through actually the dialectic that he practices, is a society wide reformation whereby more and more people become in the, they come to occupy the position of the doctor with respect to rhetoric, so that they are towards speech, what the doctor is towards knowledge of nutrition, right. So in other words, we have to grow out of being children. That’s the sort of simple answer. And then I think turning the Plato’s theory of education helps us understand like what that might look like, because otherwise you are stuck in the position of the child approving the seller of pastries rather than ever becoming the doctor who can distinguish between the hawker of pastries and the genuine dietitian or nutritionist. I know I’m sort of mixing metaphors there, but do you see what I mean? No, I think you’re on point, and I think that is certainly a big hope, and I think philosophers had this hope for a long time. I kind of feel, you know, when you look back into 17th, 18th century political philosophy, a lot of people did two things. One is they said, okay, we can’t worry about this, too complicated, and it didn’t work. I mean, since 2000 years we tried this and it didn’t work, it didn’t scale up. So here’s what we’re going to do. First we’re going to build a state that is kind of self balancing, you know, and based on kind of we use Adam Smith’s where we can, because it’s kind of invisible and it’s kind of works like magic. Nobody even knows about, but it still works. And then we kind of emulate this as much as we can with like back, you know, when you read Locke. We try to emulate this as much as possible in institutions and state structures. And on the other hand, I think what you just referred to this, we come to reasoning and we see the negatives of our impulsive doing. I think a lot of people, and this has changed now, obviously, but in the 17th, 18th, 19th century, that was the role of Christianity, right? It was the role of religion. So it gave us a direct blueprint of how we should behave. And a lot of things that are short term great for us, but long term bad, were sins. They were definitely discouraged, not necessarily prohibited. But this doesn’t exist anymore, right? So now we killed religion off, basically, in most people’s minds. And we kind of still have the state structure that kind of worked for us, but kind of the whole moral rules and the whole, you know, this is how you should behave, because it’s to your own best. We just get rid of them. And now we basically say, eat as much junk food as you want. And don’t worry about it. It’s all fine. And I think this is the crux of the issue right now. So we have this structure on one hand that should be good, but we don’t tell people how to behave anymore, because we don’t like how to tell other people how to behave. And I think it’s good, right? This is a good development. But we haven’t really replaced it with something that just keeps… How do we play the long game? How do we tell people the long game is more important than the short game? And I don’t know if there’s a lot that we currently have in our portfolio that we can just put out and say so to speak into the population. There’s not a lot of cultural values that really resonate with the white audience. From my point of view, maybe I’m wrong. You know, maybe there is a huge following for some of these value driven systems. And they don’t have to be religious, right? It can be anything. They just need to encourage people to do that long term, because I feel just talking to people and trying to educate them. I feel like to be… I think you’re way ahead of your age. Most people, they need 30, 40, 50 years to really understand philosophy and to value it, right? To this discovery of truth. I think it’s really difficult to make this apparent and to a 20 year old. I don’t know how to do it with a teenager, for instance. Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, there’s so many directions we could go there. One thing that occurs to me is, you know, I think you’re touching on lots of interesting points. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I’m not sure I’m quite as pessimistic about the sort of the impossibility or just the difficulty of instilling intellectual curiosity as a value for its own sake. I think that actually may be more of a default setting. So for instance, I mean, you know, Aristotle starts the metaphysics with the line all humans by nature desire to know. But I think we don’t have to read Aristotle to look at how young children are often very, very curious about the natural world, the social world, the historical world. I mean, you know, like Noam Chomsky tells an interesting anecdote about his education where he, you know, as a very young child was just asked in school, well, how is it that a fly can actually navigate during a rainstorm, right? Like the kind of thing a kid wants to know, but it also gets you into really rich areas of physics and biology. And sort of, depending on the kid who’s asking, you could go incredibly deep with that. And so I think one point to start is reconceiving of education as this kind of hyper instrumentalized debt ridden path to eventual wealth and directing it more into a sort of communal process by which humans self actualize as sapient entities trying to discover truth about the world. That doesn’t entirely or even maybe at all answer your other concern, which is more about ethics and character formation. And I mean, here, I think it’s, it’s useful to think about the origins of the words like the Greek ethos from which we get ethics is also the root of a word that means character in ancient Greek ethos is, and you can see this, like, you know, today we still talk about what’s the ethos of the company or the country, what’s the sort of character of it, right? But so the idea that habits are the means by which character is developed. I think is incredibly important here. So if you have a habit from a young age of, say, checking your phone 300 times a day, that’s going to produce a very different kind of cognitive organism than if you have a habit of like, trying to understand the physics by which flies navigate through rainstorms. Now, it’s a separate question like which of those is more sort of socially ideal. But I do think there’s at least some hint about the answer to that question in the fact that, you know, when we exist in sort of communities in pursuit of knowledge, there’s a built in friendship there. I mean, like, the schools of philosophy, since we’re talking so much about philosophy schools of philosophy in the ancient world, you almost can’t think about the word school today. And you can’t really think about the world philosophy today, because they met such different things. The school would be something more like a community with whom you would share meals, you would share customs, you would share friendship, wine, I mean, you could almost think of like a monastery except without the religion, right? And then philosophy itself also might be very, very kind of practical in the sense of like, how do you live a good life, right? How do you cultivate the proper disposition of your soul such that your soul will flourish? And there’s this analogy that runs through so much of Plato, but really through so much of ancient philosophy, and it shows up in Rousseau as well, we can get to that if you want, you’re mentioning a lot of modern philosophers, but well, okay, but the analogy is just between the health of the body and the health of the soul. So just as the body is this physical entity that can undergo disease, but can also experience flourishing this soul. And by that, I think you can think of something like the mind combined with like the habits and the sort of moral character, that too can be sick or healthy. So how do you achieve a society in which more souls, and I mean this not in a Christian sense, but just as a sort of philosophical translation of like Psyche, in the Greek, root of psychology, how do we get to a point where more souls are actually flourishing? I mean, I think the answer, whatever it is, whatever your position, it seems like it cannot involve further atomization through like time on screens with attention capturing models of addiction. Yeah, I mean, I think you said that really beautiful. And that’s that’s there’s two separate entities that, and I would say that’s the one is a short the short term satisfaction, and one is a long term satisfaction, and they are very often at odds. And we be, I think philosophy and I include Christian philosophy and Judaism into this, and the same goes for Quran, but lots of other religions, they bring their own philosophy, which is trying to do the same thing, like balancing out these short term and long term effects. And what the question, obviously, and we felt like the Holy Roman Empire thought they have a, they have an answer to that, right, without knowing the Greek text, and then later on they discovered them and then the answer changed. So that was, I felt that was really interesting to see that, that if they would have built on the same knowledge, maybe they would have come to a different conclusion, but they didn’t have it, it wasn’t widespread, at least I was certainly known to an extent for some experts. And I think the bigger problem is, and I think this is why we saw this takeover of religions, that’s kind of my speculation, I’m not a historian, I’m not a scientist, but we had Paul Friedman on a couple of episodes ago who teaches at Yale about the Middle Ages. And I asked him the same question, I said, you know what, I feel like the religions are kind of like a survival handbook, and so I would include Greek philosophy, but also, you know, their mythology into this, it’s a survival handbook. It’s kind of a cloud storage of things, and we don’t need the book for this, right, it works with or without a book, and most of the Old Testament was transmitted orally anyways, and it’s much older in the Middle East. What happened is, we come up with these narratives, we come up with these stories that we would tell around the fireplace, literally, and that kind of becomes our cloud storage of how to how to properly behave in these situations when our morals are challenged, right, and they’re being challenged all the time in the Bible, but also in our daily life, so we can reflect on this. And without telling people exactly what to do, we give them kind of, okay, this is a blueprint that you could use, this blueprint might not, and you might be a better question, this blueprint, because over time it might be stale, it might not be relevant for you anymore, but this is a blueprint that will help you. And I think, and I want to, and I know you have good thoughts on this, what I thought so interesting, and you wrote about that in an essay, is the time, and I think this really illustrates it, when Plato, who was a student of Socrates, right, so he wrote down most of the thoughts of Socrates, because Socrates never wrote anything down, so Plato had this idea that he’s figured all this out, he’s the philosopher king, he’s like the supreme mole judge, so to speak, right, and he eventually got called to Syracuse to Italy, and he wanted to instill by the son of the tyrant there, I learned that from the essay, I didn’t know that, and he got there, and the tyrant basically said, okay, what are you talking about, we’re gonna do our whines and orgies, and we don’t really worry about what you’re talking about, but you know, there’s no heaven waiting for me, so why are you telling me all this? I feel this kind of illustrates this point, right, what do you think, and I know Plato later came back, and how do you feel this story would have developed if, you know, if he would have convinced the tyrant, maybe that would have been very different? Yeah, it’s I think a fascinating episode, and one unfortunately neglected by a lot of philosophers and historians, where Plato, on three separate occasions, sails to the Greek speaking island of Sicily, and intervenes in the very tumultuous political situation there, and like he said, he’s there at the invitation of a friend, who is the brother in law of a tyrant, whose name is Dionysius, and it’s, according to the surviving sources, a very opulent extravagant court, full of feasting, violence, orgies, a kind of very Hobbesian, or maybe better yet, game of thrones,esque atmosphere, and so Plato arrives there, and it’s a very kind of incongruous picture that both Plato and then later historians, like Plutarch, point, paint, where, you know, he’s attempting to sort of change the virtuous disposition, change the disposition of tyrants towards virtue, to turn them away from their current lifestyle, and give them, rather than an erotic attraction to like wine or sex, actually an erotic attraction to philosophy, and I think we touched on this before, but it’s important to remember that it’s not necessarily a sort of abseemious, self denying goal, which you might associate with later sort of ascetic strands of philosophy, maybe Emmanuel Kant, certainly a lot of Christian philosophers. In fact, there’s a real erotics of the intellect in Plato, it’s just that the eros is not directed toward one particular body, or one particular sumptuous meal, it’s actually directed towards the comprehension of universal sort of formulas that describe the world, often those are mathematical for Plato, you know, inscribed above the entrance to the academy in Athens, supposedly was, were the words, made no one ad geometrios, so no one without knowledge of geometry enter here, so he’s a very sort of austere thinker, he believes that actually, like the study of theoretical math is in some sense like the flourishing of the human organism. Now, they think there are a lot of other things that can also constitute a similar flourishing for Plato, there are some tantalizing indications that he had some success with the two Dionysius the first and then Dionysius the second, right, they did have some attraction to philosophy, it was a much more prestigious pursuit in the ancient world, I mean, it encompassed everything from what we now call physics and biology and medicine to what we still call ethics and politics, right, it was sort of the, the intellectual par excellence, like full stop, a philosopher was a kind of intellectual of enormous breadth and skill and it had a lot of cachet and so, you know, a cynical reading is that the two tyrants in Sicily liked Plato as a status symbol, right, it was maybe like rating the Harvard economics department for a president today, it’s like, you don’t really listen to them, but it’s nice to have them around, they look good, when you’re giving speeches, you kind of gesture at them, that’s like this, it’s kind of like a priest, you know, yeah, yeah, a lot of warlords in the Middle Ages traveled with their priests and the idea was, A, I can’t be so bad because a priest is kind of absolving me at any point of time anyways, and second, if I’m injured, did just, you know, I will just baptize me and I go to heaven, so it was kind of insurance policy also because you couldn’t, you couldn’t, you could go to heaven, but you could do all the things you wanted because you were a Christian and then it suddenly switched and you know what I found so interesting and you wrote about that and I think this is, this is awesome when the first Dionysus, Dionysus the first or the third, I don’t know how the numbers work and he eventually, he was not happy with Plato and he just sold him into slavery and he said, you know, when he’s telling us it’s true, he wouldn’t be any less happy in slavery, so this is not a big deal, this guy would have a great life in slavery and Plato was not so happy about that, so it’s something about walking, you know, talking to talk and walking to walk, I don’t know if Plato was ready for that. Oh yeah, well so right, there is this kind of dark joke that occurs whereby, you know, if Plato’s claim that eudaimonia, which is often just glossed as happiness or well being, if eudaimonia does not depend on external circumstances, right, if sort of virtue is sufficient for well being, then as you said, there should be no change in Plato’s eudaimonia whether or not he’s enslaved and so after the first trip to Sicily kind of goes quite badly and he offends Dionysus, yeah, he is sold into slavery, you know, it’s interesting that Plato then goes back twice, I think that suggests that in fact he was sort of willing to walk the walk as you put it, right, I mean he was willing to risk enslavement, death, I mean it was not even logistically an easy thing to get from Athens to Sicily in the fourth century BC, there were all kinds of dangers natural and human that you would encounter, so I mean yeah, he’s absolutely willing, as was Socrates, right, who pays with his life, I think he definitely is willing to sort of risk consequences in order to show that he lives according to his theory and even, you know, theory makes it sound a little bit too theoretical, right, I mean it’s actually, I think it’s arrived at by theoretical means but then it exists in philosophers at a much more visceral level, right, which gets us back to the idea that there’s an actual eros towards knowledge, there’s an eros towards virtue as well, right, we’re not talking sort of deontology, Kantian duty, the eudaimonistic picture of ethics is very different, it’s one in which actually the tyrant himself is miserable and pitiable in a lot of ways, right, Dionysus is captured by his own delusions, right, he believes that happiness consists in gluttony and hedonism and sex and so on, and he’s mistaken, right, there’s this sort of universalism in Plato that can be very appealing actually, it’s like one can be wrong about whether or not they’re happy, Dionysus was, he might have said oh yes this is the good life and he would be mistaken just as if you, you know, made a claim about the physical world, it would be susceptible to being proven right or wrong, Plato has that same level of epistemic confidence in these claims about the worlds of ethics often, right, yeah, I mean what you just said, you know, good, it’s basically verbatim what I read out of out of out of 12 kings, right, of the Old Testament, it’s exactly the same the same problem, right, that they try to solve their own and they go through the history of what actually happened, so there were a bunch of prophets and kings, no, there’s 12 prophets, 12 kings, I always get confused, so it’s a series of spiritual leaders for Israel and they have the exact same problem, some of them like David and Solomon, they actually become kings but they have the exact problem that they have affairs, right, and then the state and God punishes them because suddenly for whatever reason the winning state of Israel suddenly loses its touch and, you know, retrospectively you can’t blame it on anything but it’s kind of, I feel Christian, later on Christian philosophy and at that point, Judas philosophy, there’s a lot of Greek learnings in there but they read differently and I find that, I don’t know, did you ever look into how much of a connection was there between the old Greeks and then the Middle East where a lot of the Old Testament, you know, there were basically myths before before they became written down at one point, how much of a connection was there and how does this diffuse from one side to the other, did the Greeks travel so far down to Palestine, have you looked into this? Yeah, I mean there’s an enormous literature on these topics, I think it’s a fascinating area, briefly, I think the flow is reciprocal and long lasting so, you know, Herodotus has an entire book of his histories about Egypt, the alphabet is acknowledged by various Greek authors to have come from the Near East, you know, a lot of scholars argue that parts of Homer are shaped by myths that are circulating in the Near East at around the time period, there may even be a depiction of the court of Asher Bonapal, if I’m saying that correctly, in books six through eight of the Odyssey where Odysseus is among the Phoegetians, they may be based on a very wealthy society in the Near East, so there’s that sort of line of influence, then there are more philosophical parallels, right, like what you were just saying, I think the book of Job is very interesting where literally everything is stripped away in terms of external goods from one human and the question is, can any sort of happiness survive? It’s very reminiscent of what Plato does in book two of the Republic where he says, okay, to test this thesis about eudaimonia and justice and to ask whether, in fact, justice is sufficient, necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia, we need to have a thought experiment whereby all external goods are removed and is it really then plausible to say that happiness could still exist? Aristotle will just reject that out of hand, he’ll say no, basically only someone trying to maintain a thesis at all costs could imagine that happiness would persist despite the removal of all external goods, you know, and then later, of course, you have a sort of a Christian absorption of Plato by a lot of Neoplatonist philosophers, Plotinus comes to mind, but there are a huge number of Neoplatonists who absorb parts of Christianity, but sorry, absorb parts of Plato, but try to integrate it with Christianity, and this is really the legacy that enters a lot of people like Augustine and then the early modern European philosophers Aquinas, of course, are drawing on this highly Christianized Neoplatonism, which I think in some ways is very foreign to Plato. I think you, to my mind, like lose a lot of the very interesting compelling parts because, you know, suddenly you have an entirely different cosmological picture with an afterlife, with a god who can reverse the formula of Euthyphro, the dialogue in the Euthyphro, where Plato establishes the idea that, you know, if you say X, you could either say, I am saying X because it is true, or it is true because I am saying X, and these are actually very different statements, and religion sort of gives you this trump card whereby if whatever God says can become true, just ipso facto, because it was God who said it, that cuts out the sort of the basis for a lot of philosophical inquiry. I mean, it fails this test that Socrates sets up in the Euthyphro, where even the gods have to be subject to truth conditions. It can’t just be this is true because I said it, it has to be I said it because it is true, and in that reversal of the formula, your scope for utterance is not unbounded, right? You are subject to laws of reason, both empirical and a priori, you know. So anyway, that’s a bit of a tough question. No, I thought that’s that’s really fascinating. So there was a lecture about that, that problem that I listened to, and Christine, Christine, what is her last name? I forgot her last name. I have to look up. She does an Old Testament lecture, and she also does Talmud lectures. So what she was saying is at the turn of basically around the turn of the century of Christ’s birth, the problem was that the Greeks would look at law and said, well, it’s basically a codified but not as good thoughts of the philosopher king. So the best would be the philosopher king, who basically in any situation can come up with the most just answer. And our laws, they’re great, but they’re basically just an approximation of that. We have to generalize them. So in general, they’re good, but there might be places in situations where the laws are not as good. So we have to go to someone who is much wiser, the philosopher king. So the laws were kind of something, you know, that was kind of flexible. But when you look into Judaism, it’s the complete opposite, right? So the idea is that the word from God is final. It has been changed over time, but eventually it arrived at the final moment. And what we see as a representation of Bible and what’s in the canon, that cannot be changed. This is complete and it’s forever. And obviously the problem arises, how do we deal with real life situations, right? So we have to go through sometimes really mind bending arguments in the Talmud. How do we get something that says we don’t eat shellfish, but actually it means we should eat shellfish, but only from a certain region in Israel, for instance. So it can say almost the opposite by reasoning through not just what God actually meant by saying this. I think both arrive at the same conclusion, but the trouble is they don’t really, so if the Greeks say, you know, why do you take this so seriously? The Jews would say, well, because of the word of God, and they say, well, yeah, but that’s just the word. We can always change it, right? So I think the conclusion is similar, but the idea is so opposite, how what law actually does, right? What is actually holy law? Why would we have any holy law? Why don’t we just call it law? And I find these two perspectives, I mean, especially the Judaism, a little hard to get used to, but then it makes a lot of sense once you’re in that mind flow, right? And you can live your life with two almost opposite. And the question is, we can talk about how well they scale, but you can, they’re almost opposite ways to look at the world, and they both seem to work pretty well. Yeah, I see what you mean. I mean, I’m hardly an expert on the Jewish law question. I mean, it does seem like there is a broad contrast, though, to be drawn. And, you know, it’s also probably worth remembering that Socrates is this sort of extraordinary figure who can’t just be read as a sort of typical representative of folk morality in Athens, right? So it may be the case, right? We don’t have amazing sources on this, but it may be the case that there’s less of a sharp distinction in some ways and that there is a kind of, this is probably true of a lot of human cultures, a kind of sense of like, this is what’s sacred, this is how you prepare the food, this is how you enter the temple, this is how you sacrifice the animal. Questioning these things is not something you do. And, you know, that is, you know, that’s the charge Socrates is ultimately convicted on, is impiety, is corrupting the youth, but the way by which he corrupts them according to the apology is encouraging disbelief in the old gods, right? So yeah, that’s that’s that’s a good one right there. What is the actual God and how these things change over time and the interpretation of it. One thing that maybe you can help me understand, I always struggle with the definition of logos, right? And I think it was really dear to the heart for a lot of ancient mythology and literature. What does it actually mean? And what what do people think when they say that’s the logos and the logos seems to be something we aspire to? Yeah, it’s it’s an enormously slippery, complicated concept. I mean, it’s it’s everything from like, if in some authors, it can mean like an account, almost like a logical formula, you could see it in a medical text with that sort of meaning, like, what do you put into the potion before you give it to the patient, it could mean something legal, it can mean story, it can mean argument. So it’s one of these entries where if you look in, like, the lexicon of of uses over centuries, it’ll it’ll change within within a given author, it’ll change across authors. So it’s it’s it’s like it’s like the sea god Proteus, right, from Odyssey that shifts through a bunch of shapes. It’s this shape shifting word that’s very hard to pin down. It’s then of course, in the New Testament, right, it’s the word become flesh logos. That’s that’s the word is logos. And so yeah, I mean, I think you almost it’s, it might be sort of more technical than is interesting. And I would probably have to review it as well. But like, you have to look almost within a single author and say, how is Plato using logos at this point, right? And then what’s an appropriate translation into English? Is he talking about something more technical, right? Or, and it might be if it’s like, the sophist, one of his works on logic, or, or is it something a little woollier? Yeah. Yeah, I watched a couple of debates about that. And I felt like I knew less after watching that debate, what it looks than before. It’s it’s it’s really confusing me. One thing that I wanted to get to be, I really appreciate you, you sharing so much knowledge about about ancient Greeks and how it relates to us today. The obvious question for everyone is, you know, you live in Greece, and you live in modern day Greece. And I just spent a month there in October. From my point of view, and I’m an outsider, I don’t speak Greek, modern Greek or ancient Greek. But a lot of people speak English in the city. It’s not, it’s not troublesome to communicate. I felt the the connections between the ancient Greeks and their ideals. It’s something that you have to look hard for in today’s Athens. It’s there, right? It’s definitely there. And there you go to the Acropolis. And you there’s a lots of monuments strewn all over the city. Some of them in great shape. Some of them seem to be in ruins forever. Or they made, there might be no desire to rebuild them. How do you feel modern day Greece deals with this enormous history that they obviously very proud of? I felt that. But I felt like there is very little connection between the modern day Mediterranean Greece and the old Greece. Maybe it’s there. Maybe I just can’t see it. Yeah, it’s a fascinating topic. I think it becomes more apparent maybe with more time, you know, like on one level, just linguistically, if you, if you’ve studied ancient Greek, and then you learn modern Greek, you start to see continuities, right? You start to see, okay, here’s a word that in Homer means like thrusting a spear into your enemy to kill them. Here it is on the side of a grocery store, meaning push the door open, like literally thrust the door open, right? You know, here’s a word from Estolus that means carpet, right? Here it is on the side of a van for carpet cleaners, right? So I think there’s a certain level of like linguistic continuity that that is just going to be invisible unless unless you’ve studied ancient and modern Greek both. And that I think that does map onto culture, these these linguistic things. I’m learning modern Greek at the moment, and I’ll often kind of stumble up my way through lessons with my teacher. And you know, when I when I reach for an ancient Greek word, she’ll understand me. You know, it might be something like I want to say like the source of income or the source of discontent. So I’ll say a word, and it’s actually like the word for fountain, right? So a fountain is a source of water, but it’s become conceptualized to source more broadly. Okay, that’s just at a sort of linguistic level. Culturally, that’s a fascinating question. You know, it’s 2021. We’re on the 200th anniversary this year of 1821, when the Greek Revolution occurred over a period of about seven years and brought the status of a sort of nation to what was previously just part of the Ottoman Empire, right? So if you look at modern Athens, you know, the street names are one area where you’ll see like, you can literally, it’s almost like walking through a mythological atlas, you’ll have Homer, Eretthias, Theophrastus, Philoctetes, all of these names from antiquity are everywhere on the streets. In terms of like what people actually care about, you know, that’s, that’s a little harder to quantify. I’m hardly an expert on this. It is interesting that there are a lot of names where if you just, if you just start meeting Greek people, you’ll meet an Achilles, right? You’ll meet someone named Achilles, the hero of the Iliad. You’ll meet a Pericles, the statesman of the fifth century during the Peloponnesian War, you know, and like these might be like little kids, just like you, it’s like you hear the great orators and warriors of classical Greece, like playing in the sandbox at the local park. So there’s that level of continuity. You know, there’s often, there are a lot of ironies. The anthropologist Michael Hertzfeld is really good on some of these ironies. He, he has a book on how modern Greeks actually feel about antiquity, which is exactly what you’re asking about, which is really a wonderfully rich topic. It’s called hours once more. He tells a funny story at one point where it’s during the revolution, so it’s sometime between 1821 and 1827. And, you know, famously like Lord Byron came and fought a lot of actually Phil Hellenes, people who loved their understanding of Hellenic culture came and fought and even died in the service of Greek independence. So he tells a story about an Italian guy who loved ancient Greece, who is sailing over, he gets to some of the Ionian islands and he meets an aristocratic friend there. And he’s like, you know, he can’t wait to sort of get to the fighting, basically. He wants to free Greece in the famous line from Byron’s poem. It’s like fair Greece, sad relic of departed grace. Yeah, though fallen great. Anyway, something like that. He wants to go save the glory that was Greece. This Italian guy, right? Meanwhile, the Greek host, this aristocrat, is more or less indifferent. He doesn’t seem to have much knowledge of what’s going on in the actual revolution. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of sense of like being part of a nation that’s like fighting for its freedom. In fact, what he’s doing is translating Homer into Italian, because he lives on an Ionian, Ionian island. And so he’s bilingual and bicultural in Italian. These are the ones closest to Italy. So you have an Italian coming to save Greece while the Greek is translating Homer into Italian, right? So they’re both kind of fleeing in opposite directions. And they have this meeting on an island. I think that’s like a nice story because it captures some of the irony sometimes of like, you know, and then of course you have another tradition where so much of Europe is like contesting over Greece’s legacy. You have, on the one hand, like the Phil Hellenes who think that they’re the new Greeks who are going to sort of resurrect Athens. Like, on the other hand, you have people who think, well, okay, yeah, the ancient Greeks were great, but the modern Greeks are kind of disorganized and dirty, and they’ve been corrupted by the Turks. This is another sort of narrative you encounter. And so for them, it’s like, it’s inconvenient when you encounter modern Greeks in the early 19th centuries who are actually, one, like pretty indifferent to the ancient past, and two, like, hard to match against templates of heroic glory because they’re more interested in like stealing sheep from their neighbor’s village and like going on raiding expeditions against like their enemies, like two towns over. So there’s this sometimes like comic clash between the expectations of like grandeur and heroism that like the early European travelers have for Greece. And then like what they encounter is very different. And it’s not to say that there’s no continuity. In fact, another wonderful anthropologist, Juliet Duboulay writes very movingly in two different books about the survival of ancient religious festivals within Greek Orthodox religion. So she has a book called Life and Cosmos. It’s something just about the subtiles about Orthodox religion in a rural village in the island of Evia. And in fact, there are all of these continuities to the ancient world, which it’s incredible. I mean, they have been transformed under Orthodox Christianity, but there’s a discernible link. So I guess that’s my long way of saying like, it’s a complex, rich topic, but there is continuity. And just at a simple level, there’s often like a lot of pride, like if you show up in Greek having studied ancient Greeks, people are like excited in general. I mean, a final thought on this, there’s a really interesting sort of subculture of English guys who in the Second World War, the Secret Service recruited from classics majors to parachute them in, but into Nazi occupied Greece. So like for instance, on Crete, you had Patrick Lee Firmard, who’s this like sort of dashing charismatic figure who, you know, like most upper class Brits of his day had excellent ancient Greek from school. And that meant that he learned modern Greek very quickly. And then he could sort of infiltrate as a guerrilla fighter up in the Cretan Mountains, befriended all of the shepherds, hid out in caves for months. And he’ll talk about like shepherds reciting in caves for hours on end. And you think about Homer, of course, right? Oral rap, so delivering hours of poetry by memory. And this is a shepherd, right? Someone who maybe has gone to two or three years of formal school. So I mean, you think about a story like that, it’s hard not to feel some sense of continuity between ancient Greece and modern Greece. I mean, it’s not that he’s reciting Homer, he’s reciting something called the erotocritos, which is this Renaissance poem from medieval Crete, really Renaissance Crete. But like just that sort of that same sense of like, and the sense of hospitality as well, like some of the Cambridge and Oxford folks who got parachuted into Naati occupied Crete, the way they talk about like being received by villagers, it feels straight out of Homer, right? Whereas just like the first thing you do with a stranger is you don’t ask them their name, you just start feeding them. Right? And that’s, oh, yeah, I’ll figure out who you are later. But like, strangers are sacred, right? You take them into your home, you show them Xenia, hospitality. So anyway, it’s a long topic. I think there’s a lot of rich continuity, but also, of course, after 2,500 years, some disjunctions. I think it’s fascinating that the facts that you know about that, that’s a really unique insight. And I, you know, if I have to parachute somewhere, I would go to Greece first. So that seems like a long vacation. If you’re on a guerrilla war, it sounds better in Afghanistan, or Egypt, or I don’t know where the frontiers were at the Second World War. So that sounds like I would elect that if I can. But what I felt from the few Greeks that I had a conversation about, they told me, well, you know, learning Greek is hard. So we’ll accept that you don’t speak it. Because we have, there’s so many words that we would like to know in Greek, that we don’t simply know as well. Because there is the connection to ancient Greek, as you say. There’s so much from a different world that kind of seems to blend in a little bit, that they also have trouble making their way through it. Unless, you know, they’re intellectuals and they give speeches every day about the topic, then obviously they would know. But for the general population, it is this heritage, it’s often a little bit like a burden. And I say this because there isn’t a few nations in Europe. I mean, everyone in Europe is very proud of their history and their language, right? I grew up in Germany. So extreme nationalism in Germany, and you know, we know what happened with it, but it’s still there. It’s just you don’t see it anymore, and it’s being, it’s hidden away a little, but still there. But most of that history actually happened, you know, Germany was started in Reformation. So a lot of stuff happened in the last 400, 500 years. The average German has no clue about these things as well, right? And that’s only 200 years ago. And Britain, you know, it really took off, became an empire two or 300 years ago. Nobody really knows. And we expect Greeks to kind of have a connection to something that’s two and a half thousand years old. So that shows kind of how silly that is, what that’s kind of the expectation level that I had. And what I felt like it’s a bit like a burden because you have this massive amount of knowledge and advance in philosophy, not so much in technology. Strangely enough, the Greeks didn’t develop that much technology. They had technology, but it never really took off. And then the Romans came around, they had better tech, but they didn’t have a ton of innovation either, at least not for very sustainable. Sometimes I feel like that tells us a story. One is that you can come up with very great intellectual ivory towers that make a lot of sense. And actually the Greeks, I think, hit the truth literally many, many times and thousands of years before. But it didn’t really change their productivity. Since it didn’t change their productivity for the average person, it kind of became an empire that didn’t make it very long. I mean, they did make it for 500 years, so maybe that long is the wrong word. But if they would have sustained productivity growth, we would all speak Greek today, I feel. Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s a little hard to say, right? Like the conquest of Alexander, the Great, and then the Hellenistic period did spread Greek around a lot of the Mediterranean. And I’m not sure, I guess, what to say about the sort of counterfactual world in which somehow that continued and we all speak Greek. That just seems like, like, but I mean, I guess I’m also not quite sure whether framing it in terms of productivity, if you mean that in an economic sense is. Yeah. What I’m trying to say is, what, how long do these empires last, if it can be predicted? And, you know, we are like in the midst of an American empire. And we can definitely see the signs, obviously, signs when word for desolation, that the American empire is certainly taking a hit right now. Nobody doubts that. But can we predict and can we learn from those? I mean, there’s more than the Greek empire, it just doesn’t small. Can we predict and say, well, and I think one of those big predictors is continuous productivity growth. If you continue to innovate and show productivity growth, you have nothing to worry about. If you, for whatever reason, cultural, economical, technological, you hit a wall, you’re in trouble. Like it’s that empire might be over. I mean, the place will, will still continue, right? But the empire and your influence on the world will be over. Maybe, maybe focalizing it with one example would be helpful. I mean, like if you look at Thucydides history of the Peloponnesian war, one way of reading that text, you know, which recounts the struggle between Athens and Sparta at the end of the fifth century, one way of reading that is as a meditation on the theme you’re, you’re raising, what, what causes empires to fall? In this case, we have a kind of Athenian empire. They’re an enormously powerful sea empire in the fifth century, exacting tributes from islands and villages across the Mediterranean. So what causes that fall? I mean, Thucydides, I think can be plausibly read as almost a kind of moral tragedy, whereby there’s an imperialist hubris, right? I mean, the Greeks, they go and they try to conquer Sicily, right? This ill fated Sicilian expedition, which ends in slaughter for tens of thousands of Greeks. There’s a kind of arrogance, the way they treat the millions, right? There’s a famous part called the million dialogue, where they’re essentially playing power politics. They’re just dictating terms to a weaker colony. So eventually, this, this sort of hubris, to use a Greek word, a sort of moral arrogance, results in the collapse. And in fact, the way Thucydides frames it is, is such that you have every reason to believe the Athenians will win the war. They’re richer. They have more, they have more wealth than Sparta. They have control of the sea, which is enormously important. And they have stronger alliances. And so he frames it as this kind of almost following maybe a tragic template, something you’d expect from Sophocles. There’s a sort of clear moral arc whereby, you know, I think it’s hard necessarily to map this perfectly onto later empires, but it’s a different way of thinking, it may be a less economistic way of thinking about history than just like they, you know, they stopped producing new technologies and therefore they collapsed. It might be worth introducing a more kind of moral and narrative dimension whereby, you know, as… So I really like that argument. It’s certainly more, more to it than the simplistic view on just the technology. And I think there’s more to it. There’s a bunch of books that make that argument. And I’ve fallen to… I became a believer in that, and that’s… I’ve been looking at this for the last 20 years. Obviously there’s more to it, and I don’t want to reduce it too much, but that’s kind of my simplistic view that I have on the final days of the empire. There’s way more to it. And Paul Friedman told me his view is, it’s the moral rot. So if the morals, if the people are not united anymore, and if there’s too much moral rot, then the empire is doomed, irrespective, because simply that also reduces technological growth, because simply people don’t worry about technology and growth much more. What they worry about is fighting each other. You know, civil war kind of can kill pretty much any empire. There’s a lot to it, and I mean, there’s a long history of those empires. Anyways, what I wanted to talk… kind of is the last point. I’m very impressed by your knowledge of ancient Greece. Are you planning to write a book? What’s next for you? Are you… How do you use this amazing knowledge you’ve got? Well, yeah. I mean, I certainly am interested in continuing to write on Greece, whether that takes the form of more essays and articles or a book. You know, I’m a little bit agnostic about that. There’s… yeah, there’s all sorts of things that I am sort of working on and interested in with respect to philosophy and ancient Greece. So one of them is actually this topic, though, of sort of political community and how… what I guess your other interview, we use the term moral rot. I mean, the Greek, you might also just say stasis, which is often translated as civil war. So how is it that like communities like fracture and collapse versus what sort of institutions and attitudes allow them to coalesce and thrive? I mean, that’s a major theme in the ancient philosophers and historians. And it also seems like a very timely one today. So I mean, that’s on my mind a lot. But then it’s also… it’s also for me kind of just a way of like leading a rich life. Like I read… I try to read at least 50 to 100 lines of Homer in Greek every day. I try to make time for Plato. So it’s also not… it’s… I mean, to sort of get back to our earlier thing, it’s not always like, I’m doing it for the sake of some other project. It may just be like, this is a meaningful way to spend time. And you know, I’m also trying to get my modern Greek better as well. So that’s on the agenda. In terms of other articles, like I’m writing quite a bit on economics these days, those are sort of what some of my longer reported stories are on. And yeah, those should be out in the next few months. So I won’t say too much about that, I guess for now. That sounds really interesting. What’s your tip for getting through Homer? I mean, I’m still… I haven’t… I have the book, but I haven’t started yet. Is there an easy way? Can I chop it down a little bit? Is there some shortcut to it? Because it looks massive. Oh, you know, it’s… I think it’s a real pleasure. I mean, it’s like the sort of thing you could read at night with kids. I think it’s nice to read it out loud. That’s probably how it was experienced. It’s like as an oral poem over a period of a few days with good food and wine. I mean, that might help. Okay, okay, I’ll try. I’ll try that. Maybe I can introduce them to some Greek literature. They haven’t taken a bite yet. Yeah, yeah. That might be a good starting point to start with my children. Awesome. Nick, thanks for doing this. I learned so much. That was fantastic. I really appreciate that. My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Yeah, it was very, very nice to talk to you as well. And hopefully, we will have you back. And maybe next time we talk about economics. Yeah, that’d be great. That’d be great. Sounds good. That’d be awesome. Nick, take it easy. Talk soon. Bye. Bye. Bye.