The Charlie And Ben Podcast is a weekly YouTube show in which Charlie Houpert and Ben Altman discuss, analyze, and share opinions on contemporary events and news.
About The Hosts
Charlie Houpert and Ben Altman are the founders of Charisma on Command, a YouTube channel that breaks down media personalities and celebrities looking for what makes them charismatic, appealing, or high power.
They also market a course on social skills called Charisma University and a course on emotional self-awareness and well-being called Emotional Mastery.
- Why Watching It
- 1. Over-Relativism Turns Into Naivete
- 1.2. Naive Relativism On Donald Trump: Can’t You See The Red Flags of Dark Narcissism?
- 1.3. Naive Relativism of Expertise: Tin Foil Hat David Icke Gets Same Credit As Scientific Community
- 1.4. Naive Relativism on Personality Disorder: “we’re all sociopaths”
- 1.5. Naive Relativism On Predatory Cults: Cults Are The Same As Any Other Organization
- 2. Misguided Rebuttal of Science
- 3. Blank Slate Approach
- 4. Misses Second Order Consequences
- 5. Sometimes Disempowering
- Golden Nuggets
- Favorite Quotes
Why Watching It
In general, the main reasons we decided the show deserves a spot on TPM is because it can help viewers to:
1. To Learn Critical Thinking Skills
Learning critical thinking skills is the main reason I decided to review their podcast.
Critical thinking skills is a meta-skill in life.
And, so far, I have yet to find any good resource that focuses on developing, growing, and honing critical thinking.
So one of the best ways to learn it, is to engage with those who already have critical thinking skills, and see how they go about making sense of the world.
And The Charlie and Ben Podcast helps you acquire those skills by watching two smart and open-minded guys analyzing world news and events.
2. To Learn Logical Reasoning
The cousin of “critical thinking”, and the guys, Ben in particular, also display great logical reasoning.
You can see if most often as they look for both proving and disproving evidence for different theories or arguments.
3. For Role Models Of Success, With Ethical Standards
Both of them seem to be two ethical guys who have built a successful business while seeking to add real value, and avoiding the scammiest marketing ploys.
So they combined both ethics, with business and personal success.
That’s some eagle-stuff.
Ethics & Moral Self-Awareness
In between the “self-awareness” and ethics, the podcast is also great to spot our ethical blind spots as well.
What I like most is that Ben and Charlie always start any judgment towards others by looking at themselves first -and yes, sometimes they over-relativize as we’ll see soon, but that’s the right approach anyway and they mostly do it great-.
Just as an example:
Charlie: this crypto-bullshit, the way that influencers are doing it is so morally (pauses to think of the right word) disturbing (…) there is not a single question of “is this a good thing to put this into the world”.
It’s a bummer the lack of moral thought
I couldn’t agree more.
And then, even better, he goes on to explain WHY it bothers him so much. And it’s because he may have the power to do it with his audience, but chose not, and it annoys him that others are doing it without paying a price.
This is also one of the reasons why we say here that leaders must maintain some ethical standards and avoid free riders in their groups: otherwise, all the contributors will stop giving and caring, and the group loses its ability to pool resources and achieve goals.
4. For Self-Awareness / Emotional Mastery
Charlie and Ben are incredibly mature and self-aware -far more than I am in those areas-.
Their ability to self-analyze themselves from both a self-development and a psychological point of view is truly remarkable (and I learned a lot from that).
For example, says Charlie:
Charlie: When I see at myself my relationship with authority has shifted as my understanding of my relationship with my dad has shifted.
I was a MF pain in the ass arguer, stand-up posts, and when I was in my young 20’s dude I was in at the rallies “fuck the man” you know, take this guy down
Ben: (joking) “fuck my dad. I mean, the government”
Then Charlie goes on to explain that as he repaired his relationship with his dad, he started seeing value in more traditional or conservative values -didn’t become conservative, but doesn’t reject ideas off the cuff anymore simply out of personal rebelliousness-.
Very deep level of self-awareness, as well as emotional power dynamics.
What they’re discussing is the rebelliousness of the people who are still under the yoke of a power figure -and their judgment of us-.
Some people rebel as a (misguided) effort to gain personal freedom.
What they’re really rebelling against is often the mental power that the authority holds over them.
We call that authority figure “judge role” in interpersonal relationships.
Albeit there is lots of good in the Charlie and Ben Podcast, there’s also something we strongly disagree with.
In brief, Charlie and Ben, and even more Charlie, sometimes fall under what we label here “naive self-help“.
Specifically, it’s “naive open-mindedness”, “naive over-philosophizing”, and naive (cultural) relativism.
If we were to use a single sentence to highlight the cons of the podcast, it would be this:
An open mind is great, but not so open that your brain falls out.
Sometimes, the Charlie and Ben Podcast feels like the second part of that sentence.
Now let’s go more into details about what we disagree with, and what doesn’t align with TPM’s views.
Just as a reminder: in spite of the entries below, we still like and recommend Charlie & Ben Podcast.
We highly recommend this article on naive self-help:
1. Over-Relativism Turns Into Naivete
OK, we get it:
Most people are too quick to pass judgment.
So generally leaving room for doubt is a good idea.
However, as for everything: balance.
If jumping to judgment with limited information is not optimal, it’s not optimal to suspend judgment forever, either.
Because not everything is shades of grey, and not everything is a “maybe”. Sometimes, something is clear -or clearly right or wrong-. And someone -or someone’s action- is clearly wrong, right, guilty or innocent.
And even grey areas aren’t perfectly grey. So someone’s action may be “legal”, but still “quite of an asshole thing to do”.
To understand the general principle of the law of balance, bookmark this article for later if you haven’t read it yet:
The Cowardice of Suspending Judgment
Not the case of Charlie and Ben, but:
- Philosophizing power move: Refusing to provide a clear opinion is sometimes a power move to make you sound intellectual and “superior”
- Coward CYA policy: And it’s also a coward and low-power move to hide yourself and avoid any scrutiny.
It’s not by coincidence that in the Divine Comedy Dante places those who never took sides in the “inferno”.
Never choosing a side can be a sneaky, manipulative tactic to appeal and play both sides. To never commit is also to refuse responsibility: you refuse to contribute and choose to stay in that safe limbo where you can never be proven wrong or called into question.
The Relativist Bane
To avoid providing a clear-cut opinion, Charlie and Ben, and especially Charlie, meander into a maze of endless relativism.
Sometimes relativism is exactly what you need to put things in perspective.
But eventually, you want to at least try and come back to more down-to-earth, pragmatic, concrete conclusions.
In many cases, I felt that relativism was pushed too far and was left at that, without even trying to reach a no-matter how-provisional conclusion.
And that includes many cases where a more concrete and pragmatic conclusion was either possible or, I felt, even easy.
1.2. Naive Relativism On Donald Trump: Can’t You See The Red Flags of Dark Narcissism?
In this episode, Charlie and Ben discuss the Capitol Hill riots.
They say that if Trump believes the election was truly stolen, then democracy would be dead, and he is doing the right thing.
And if Trump doesn’t truly believe the election was stolen, then… Then he’s a dangerous crook, a potential tyrant?
Nope, they can’t push that far, not even in the event that Trump made it all up just to keep power.
Instead, it’s “looking for excuses to avoid a negative judgment”. Charlie says that it could be cognitive dissonance in Trump’s shoes and “it doesn’t require a nefarious megalomaniac (to do what Trump did, it’s implied)”.
They then go on to say that “storming” is not necessarily bad or evil -which is fair-.
Yet in all this analysis never once did they address the fact that an endless string of Trump’s behavior screams extreme narcissism, thin skin (typical of vulnerable narcissism), and an obvious drive to maintain and increase power at all costs, no matter what.
These two guys do personality breakdowns and even had a video on narcissism, but can’t even bring themselves to air the possibility that Trump may be a narcissist, and high in dark triad traits?
Is it bias, contrarian spirit for living in California, fear of being “judgmental” or “conservative”, or is it “relativistic fundamentalism”? I think it’s the latter: they may reject religion and ideology, but they sometimes get lost in relativistic fervor.
In my eyes, that made it a very poor analysis.
And please note this is has little to do with politics, and all to do with personality analysis and spotting red flags.
For example, I don’t think Trump was a particularly bad president in terms of policies -he didn’t start a war, which is is not too bad to start with-.
But he was a poor example of a leader, and a danger to democracy. The guys heavily underestimate how close Trump was to overturning democracy.
For an analysis of Trump’s last attempt to hold on to power, read here:
Not Calling An Asshole An Asshole Is A Disservice to The Audience (Andrew Tate)
It’s not just about Trump.
Charlie often extends moral relativism in judging characters.
Murderers are not at fault because that’s their brain make up.
Or because of the experiences they’ve had.
As fans of Free Will by Sam Harris, it makes sense they feel that way.
However, same as Harris, they fall into the same trap of conflating free-will with the different reasons why it can make sense to blame and deliver punishment, including: retribution, eradication through example, upholding value-giving VS value-taking as a value in society by punishing the latter, judgment of character and action along moral and ethical standards, and personal strategies and self-defense against potentially dangerous characters.
So yes, they’re right about the reason.
But it’s also right to say “that guy is an asshole” if one behaves like an asshole.
Sometimes the guys also seem to extend too much benefit of the doubt.
In this case, they are talking about an influencer who promotes online gambling.
Charlie: it doesn’t seem that he’s asked himself “is this good or not”. He hasn’t though about any of those considerations
That’s almost more offensive to tell of that the guy that he’s an asshole. Because it’s the equivalent of saying that he’s got the brain of a dog.
Who can promote online casinos without thinking that people are going to lose money?
In this other episode they spend half an hour, literally, talking about Andrew Tate, a dark triad self-appointed self-help guru.
Tate’s business model -and narcissistic need- is to court attention at all costs, and he does it by being as provocative as possible (note: some in the TPM’s community disagree, saying that, at least initially, Tate had good advice and helped them).
Charlie and Ben come up with all kinds of reasons for his behavior except the most obvious one.
And not even once did they even consider malevolence and a selfish intent to milk his audience as much as possible, without a care in the world for the customers.
In the next episode, Charlie discusses Tate’s story of beating a bully and his dad congratulating him as if the story were true. It’s funny they often say of media that you can’t take the news as true (makes sense), but then assume that what Tate says -Tate being the type of character that I wouldn’t trust a single word out of his mouth- is true.
This is a disservice to the audience because learning to judge characters is a fundamental life skills.
Especially so when it comes to manipulators, value-takers, and potential psychopaths.
With their over-relativistic attitude, they’re inadvertently teaching their audience to over-trust.
1.3. Naive Relativism of Expertise: Tin Foil Hat David Icke Gets Same Credit As Scientific Community
Sometimes relativism means to Charlie that almost any opinion is worth the same.
This relativism bias is based on what we may call “naive logic“, and it starts like this:
Everyone can be wrong, biased, or deceitful.
And it’s easy to find evidence that any single person, at least sometimes, was wrong.
The mistake is then to over-expand that truth to mean that “since anyone can be wrong, biased, or deceitful, then everyone’s ‘ opinion has an equal likelihood of being wrong, biased, or deceitful”.
That’s just stupid logic, and any 2-year-old would know when they’d rather trust their parents, than a stranger.
So of course the fact that if “10 doctors” say anything about their field of expertise, there is no guarantee of it being correct.
But it’s still more likely they are correct, than any random 10 non-doctors.
However, the relativist zealots sometimes miss this very simple concept and can end up sounding ridiculous.
For example, check Charlie’s comments in this episode on David Icke and the “Covid 5G conspiracy”:
Charlie: I watched the David Icke Brian at the beginning of this, and David comes and says “it’s 5g and this is a big plan”, and I go “look I don’t know, we’ll see”
So Charlie basically says that he doesn’t know if 5g is responsible for Covid, which is “fair enough to say” -but it’s not fair to give it too much credit, given what they already knew at the time, read on-.
What’s not fair enough instead is to consider David Icke, a conspiracy theorist claiming that an inter-dimensional race of reptilian beings has hijacked the Earth- at the same level of the community of doctors and epidemiologists who see no connection between 5g and Covid.
Charlie himself goes on to offer perfect rebuttals of why that point of view made no sense in light of available data and logic, not even when it was first proposed (ie.: if the connection was true, we’d see more Covid cases in places with more 5g, which is not the case and, sometimes, opposite of what we see).
So… Why would you give that much weight to the opinion of a person with low authority and credibility, with a bad track record of BS, and an illogic explanation that makes no sense when checked against the available data?
Attention: that doesn’t mean you should 100% throw out the opinion, that would be going too extreme in the opposite direction and a logical and scientific approach always leaves doors open.
But your brain should go:
- Low authority guy
- Low expertise guy
- Poor track record
- On the podcast of a guy with a track record of creating (fake) drama for views and money
- Promoting a theory that not a single accredited scientist endorses
- Promoting a theory that my own logic, based on current data, plainly contradicts
That already should tell you to de-prioritize and probably stop listening UNTIL he has amassed more evidence and/or someone corroborates that point of view with some evidence.
So the end result is NOT “I don’t know, we shall see”, but:
Can’t say 100% for sure, but very low chances, and it’s much more likely that the YouTube host was chasing views. So don’t waste time on this and move on”.
Instead, nope, like a self-righteous philosopher adrift in a sea of relativism, Charlie proudly keeps all doors open to any possibility -the time you wasted on idiots be damned-.
1.4. Naive Relativism on Personality Disorder: “we’re all sociopaths”
You gotta love this one.
At least, you gotta love this one if you’re a malignant sociopath :).
It’s indeed the abusers of this world who love that type of relativism the most.
As Marta Stout said: some people are just bad, and some others can’t stop making excuses for them -I’d add, it’s often the limousine liberal types who do it-.
Let’s see what that excuse-making looks like.
We’re starting from the presupposition that there are sociopaths and that is a useful definition.
Well, yes, there are, and I find it a perfectly useful definition.
And in I think that in some contexts it is (..) what I come back to is that all of these diagnoses and all of morality is totally relative to your surroundings, such as that in 200 years we’re all going to be diagnozable sociopaths, or whatever they call it, ASPDs, it will have evolved by then
I think this is nonsense relativism.
Of course there is some relativism and we’re all insensitive to some of the world’s pains, but there are clear traits and behavioral patterns of sociopathy, one of which is “lack of empathy”.
And no matter how things evolve, a high-empathy guy is still different from someone else without empathy.
That difference remains no matter how you want to put things into perspective.
This is something Charlie repeats once again in this episode during Johnny Deep’s court hearings, with the usual theme being that “we all have those traits and needs, some just a little bit more”.
What’s lost in that naive relativism is that, first of all, some have it a lot more, not a bit more (and some, not at all). And two, that the spectrum is also a bell curve distribution where the differences grow HUGE at the extremes. Going to an extreme in some traits or needs changes someone fundamentally. If we’re talking about psychopathy, those extremes make one far more likely to be harmful and dangerous to others -someone should send Charlie the stats of the psychopathy rates in the general population, and in prisons and see how he’d spin that-.
The fact that it’s a spectrum does not invalidate the usefulness of labels and does not invalidate the reality of what it’s like to live with someone with a certain mental health issue.
1.5. Naive Relativism On Predatory Cults: Cults Are The Same As Any Other Organization
In this episode Charles Manson.
And, as you might guess by now, he relativizes Manson and his activities as well:
Charlie: and he definitely has cult-like aspects of what he does but here’s the problem. So you look at all these things sociologists have to find it I’ll read you some of the the key indicators of a cult okay so you
(…) I’m gonna describe every organization to you (implied, via the dinition of a cult)
Charlie seems to imply that didn’t feel comfortable doing a video on Charles Manson because the overlap with any other group was too strong in his opinion.
What he’s then trying to do is to relativize the definition of a cult so that he can say that it’s meaningless and that any organization can be defined a cult (on another episode, he says cults are similar to American next top model with Tyra Banks).
He’s got a point, actually, especially with religion and the army.
Yet, it’s not the same thing at all. This is deceiving relativism. Deceiving relativism is based on the false assumption that anything which can be placed on the same scale is the same.
There is a huge difference between doing something at a moderate level, and doing something at an extreme level. As Layne Norton says whenever he corrects nutrition quacks: the poison is in the dosage.
So albeit every organization persuades and “mind controls” and may turn exploitative, we use the word “cult” for extreme controlling behavior and for more extreme exploitation of the individuals/
And that is a BIG difference.
The fact that each one of them can be exploitative doesn’t make it equal because the intensity is different. Exploiting someone out of the pocket change that they willingly offer in the church is very different than robbing someone of their whole life saving -or leading them to commit suicide as it’s happened for some cults-.
1.5.2. Naive Relativism on Civilizations: Romans Are The Same As Barbarians
Later in that same podcast Charlie says that barbarians are no different than Romans, and barbarian is “everyone that’s not Roman”.
The difference here is that barbarians don’t develop civilization-defining institutions, technologies, and methodologies such as writing, schools, and science, Or, if they did, they developed them at far lower levels.
There’s also a very practical difference: when civilizations such as the Roman empire invade a neighboring region, it’s still an invasion, but the annexed region can often be better off under the Romans. If barbarians invade, they’re very rarely better off.
This is how smart people talk stupid sometimes: they take something that makes sense in moderation and they take it to an extreme.
1.5.3. Naive Relativism on Predatory Practices: Landmark Forum
Charlie shares a great story about his experience in, if I remember correctly, the Landmark Forum.
If it wasn’t Landmark, it was something similar anyway.
The process Charlie describe was appalling to me.
The “gurus” had everyone stand, then close their eyes and chant something, and say that they “commit to self-development” and to joining the next upsell seminar (paid, of course).|
Charlie also recalled that almost as soon as they started, the moderators reneged on one of the core initial agreements.
That reeks of cult to me.
But Ben said “no knock on them”.
And Charlie had no strong opinion and no strong words against that behavior, saying that he was grateful for what he learned and could still recommend the business for what he had learned there.
To me, that’s nonsense.
Deceptive methods are what deceptive, crappy people use within crappy and deceptive organizations.
People also learn everything that’s not expressly said from the supposed teachers and their character, and you can’t recommend people who are that shady.
2. Misguided Rebuttal of Science
It feels to me like Charlie and Ben sometimes devalue or under-value science and its contributions.
For example, while defending Charisma University from those who ask about “how science-backed it is”, Ben says:
Ben: people say “do you have any studies to back that up”. Well, what I have is my experience, the experience of people I’ve coached, the experience of watching other people. And that seems to me to be far more valuable than if I rely on a study
I partially agree in the sense that personal experience and a skilled guy looking for patterns is better than “a study”.
But I disagree with the frame that seems to be “experience VS science”.
Science, or studies, are a huge opportunity for extra data points.
And, in some cases, it can open the floodgates of data points in ways that your personal experience can’t match.
You can’t for example have a lot of experience in having lifelong intimate relationships because you can have at most one.
But science can analyze 1.000 lifelong partners and tell you what makes them stick together.
And much of your experience is biased no matter how often you achieve something.
Ben has no experience dating as a non-attractive, short, poor guy, or overweight guy, for example.
And if he were to rely on his experience alone, he has no idea what’s it like to date as a non-attractive guy. He also has no idea how challenging, if it’s challenging at all, for a guy who is, say, overweight.
But getting access to a survey might show him that 10% of women say “I don’t care” when it comes to extra kilos, something he’d never know based on his experience.
Or, he may see in a meta-analysis that 99% of women say “absolutely not” to overweight guys, in which case he could amend his course to prioritize nutrition -something he couldn’t know based on his experience alone-.
Ultimately, it’s not a question of “one VS the other” or “one better than the other”, since it also depends a lot on context and on what we’re talking about.
It’s more a question of how to blend them together.
In this other video Charlie, with a holier-than-thou attitude that he unluckily resorts to a bit too often, equates the citation system to a popularity context:
Charlie: What college teaches us about citations, well I understand the intent but it’s deeply unscientific, because the way that everyone I think probably even your thesis advisors read your thesis is that they do not reference every single citation you make and then go to that book and then reference the citations (…) it’s an appeal to authority over and over and over.
(mimicking high-pitched female bragging voice) How do we know that it’s true he’s got a lot of citations.
You know what I mean, (mimicking high-pitched female bragging voice) like a lot of people say that i’m right too, it’s just a popularity contest masked as as truth
He’s got some good points, but it’s also a huge strawman.
I’ve never heard anyone saying that anything was good or true “because it had a lot of citations”.
2.2. Misguide Rebuttal of Evolutionary Psychology’s Contributions
Unluckily I missed the links on this one.
In any case, at least once and probably more than once Chalie and Ben criticize evolutionary psychology.
In one case, it was because the theories were more like storytelling without data.
But here’s the misunderstanding, as Steven Pinker explains, the fact that several pop-psychology authors make up crappy stories and call them “evolutionary psychology” doesn’t mean that evolutionary psychology is unfounded. it means that those authors are full of crap.
Evolutionary psychology is a fundamental discipline to understand human behavior and, as we shall see, Charlie and Ben largely missed that train (they probably grew up in the blank slate era and never challenged it or questioned it much).
For example, in one instance Charlie and Ben discuss attraction being subjective.
And IT IS subjective (as well as socially and culturally influenced), as we even say here.
But not nearly to the extent they seem to suggest, and there are plenty of traits and behaviors that are attractive across the board.
For example, no woman in no era preferred shorter men to taller men, poorer men to wealthier men, lower status to higher status men, or dumber men to smarter men.
Exceptions always apply, but we’re talking about exceptions.
2.3. False Cognitive Fallacies: The Brain Works Better Than You Think
Kahneman’s work largely opened the pandora box on cognitive biases.
In short, the “naive cognitive fallacy” looks like this:
Explain why something apparently makes no sense with naive logic, and then explain how IF we could just be more rational we’d be so much smarter and better off.
For example, a supposedly human fallacy is that of feeling good or bad depending on the relative level of our achievements and/or lifestyle compared to the people around us.
Ben in this episode says the life of an average person in the West today is better than the life of pharaohs and kings of ancient times. But we don’t get to reap the benefits of that improvement because we compare ourselves to other people in the present era.
But the comparative fallacy is a fake fallacy.
It’s NOT irrational to feel less than a king if you’re middle class or poor because status and the benefit distributions based on status hierarchies ARE comparative -and are comparative in the present-.
Now it might be smarter to feel great about whatever we have, and that’s true.
But that’s not how the brain works, and it’s not irrational or fallacious.
To be precise, Ben never said it’s irrational.
But the implication is that the brain is failing while, in fact, at least in this case as in other “cognitive biases” fallacies, the brain is perfectly attuned to the realities of what provides us survival and reproductive benefits.
3. Blank Slate Approach
The “nature VS nature” is a long-standing, fundamental debate in the social sciences.
And, generally speaking, Ben and Charlie lean heavily into the “nurture” category.
They often talk about “being socialized” or “learning” to like certain things and behave in certain ways.
They’re not always extreme, but they’re… Quite extreme at times.
Frankly, sometimes I’ve been surprised how these two smart guys that I respect veered so far deep into the “nurture” camp.
For example, in this episode and talking about the nature of sexual attraction, Charlie says:
Charlie: we have been taught to primarily want through the eyes of others because we have not been trained not to know how to fantasize and want on our own
It’s true that attraction has a strong social component -and especially so in women-.
But one, there are REASONS why -again, evolution is far from perfect, but less stupid than you’d think-.
Second, we haven’t exactly been taught that. For reasons that are a bit too long to explain here, it makes perfect sense for an individual to like and want what others want.
3.2. Disney Taught Us Monogamy? Not Really
In another episode that I forgot to save, Charlie talks about the “ideal of monogamy” in the west.
And, if I recall correctly -IF- he ascribes Western monogamy, the concept of love, and his own ideal of romance to Disney movies.
Falling in love is a chemical reaction that has little to do with Disney movies, and people tend to stick together in any culture -including remote and isolated tribes-.
And please note, this is NOT a defense of monogamy, love, or anything, it’s simply to say that it’s not Disney that invented and implanted into people’s brains the ideals of “sticking together” and “faithfulness”.
3.3. Breakup Pain “Learned Response”? Nope
Ben mentions that breakups can take a heavy toll on people, and Charlie says:
Charlie: we talked about it before I think it’s primarily hard because of the cultural narrative that we place on relationships which is essentially that you’re complete now you’ve found your other half you know I mean you’re gonna be together forever and we’re gonna sing
Talking about how he consciously resists that cultural narrative, he says:
Charlie: and when I often catch myself expecting beyond that I try to go hold on this is a fantasy concocted by Disney movies and Ed Sheeran and and Bruno Mars and it is going to destroy you if you buy into it
It’s an interesting point of view, and it may be partially true, in some ways, and culture probably does have an impact.
Yet, to talk about emotional attachment as if it were a cultural phenomenon, even if only primarily a cultural phenomenon, is misguided.
Emotional attachment is an inborn drive, it’s cross-cultural, and even men and women who haven’t seen Disney movies have it.
4. Misses Second Order Consequences
The guys do a great job at challenging many beliefs.
Yet, they do hold several beliefs, acritically, that seems to make sense on paper, but that do show some cracks when you examine them closer.
4.2. Drug Decriminalization: Are You Sure It’d Be Better?
In this episode Ben and Charlie seem to agree that legalizing drugs is a better approach.
Since they don’t mention the type of drug, it seems they hold that view generally, and independently of the type of drug.
This is a common thesis quite popular in the liberal and left-leaning camps.
The assumptions are that:
- Legalizing drugs will disempower the cartels and decrease violence
- People will not consume more drugs
- We remove the “cool factor” of drug consumption which maly lead to a decrease of consumption
Albeit I do agree, even strongly agree that decriminalizing is best, the truth is that I don’t really know if things would generally be better.
And the reason why I don’t know is that we never tested it out.
So neither do they know for sure, unless some countries first try to legalize ALL drugs, and compare the effects.
For example, making drugs easier and legal to access may tempt more socially restricted and reputation-aware folks who avoid drugs out of shame or out of “fear of being caught”.
Until we test a system with legalized drug consumption, including stronger ones, we can’t know for sure.
4.3. Higher Tax Don’t Stifle Productivity?
This is another popular argument among liberal-leaning folks.
In this episode, Ben says that he’s not convinced that higher tax rates stifle productivity and entrepreneurship.
So far, OK.
Then he says that guys like Bezos and Musk aren’t going to stop working because of a higher tax rate. The reason, says Ben, is that it’s because they’re driven by “something else”.
And Charlie that “they’ll move somewhere and continue working” -already the argument is fallacious then: a government that raises taxes would push the entrepreneurs away, and higher taxes do stifle productivity then-.
Ben adds that if the tax rate goes up by 5% he won’t work 5% less.
But now he moved the goal posts and it’s a very different proposition: he’s arguing about a perfectly linear effect, not on whether there is an effect or not.
Of course there is no perfectly lear effect, but that doesn’t mean there is no effect whatsoever.
The other issue of taking extremes such as Bezos and Musk is that many folks do work hard to gain early retirements, or because they’re driven by more selfish motives of amassing resources and power. And those will, likely, end up working less when you make it more difficult for them to enjoy the fruits of their hard work.
4.4. Stock Market Always Go Up?
Charlie says that the common advice on investing in the stock market is misguided (a proposition that is not very thought through in itself), and Ben replies:
Ben: I actually think you’re totally fine if you work a 50k your job and you’ve been putting your money away into into a mix of cash a bond ETF and a S&P 500 and you’re like oh no my savings are down tremendously right now (…) it’s fine it’ll bounce back in the next six years
This is trend extrapolation.
Ben is most likely right, but it’s far from a given.
It should be obvious why it’s a fallacy, so we won’t even get there, but I like to quote Nassim Taleb on this:
I’m sure that Carthage and Jerico had their own no less eloquent pundits saying “our enemies have to destroy us many times but we always came back more resilient than before”Nasim Taleb, The Black Swan
4.5. There’s Only Upsides to Letting Businesses Fail (Free Market Fallacy)?
Talking about allowing businesses to go bankrupt VS propping them up with government loans:
Ben: people think that if an airline company went bankrupt we wouldn’t be able to fly (…) but if an airline company goes bankrupt they don’t just get all their planes into a hangar and then throw TNT at them to create an explosion. They sell them for as much as they can get so all the flights would still be the same if we did have a government that said “hey just you guys know no bailouts are ever coming your way”
In brief, Ben says that if an airline goes bust, then a new airline will take its place, at no cost. And probably it’ll be more efficient, and everyone’s better off.
Albeit I agree with the principle, it’s not true that there are no costs associated with bankruptcies.
Just to name a few:
- Time wasted on sales/purchases: weeks at least, and those planes won’t be flying during that time providing no value and while leaving some of those who’d like to fly without a flight
- Time and money wasted on contract re-negotiation: time lost to re-negotiate contracts from the bankrupt entity, to the new one. That’s weeks without a salary for the workers
And the small things add up as well:
- Airplanes to repaint
- Former miles and bonuses erased
There are even social and emotional costs for some people:
- Social capital loss with team shakeups (low chances of the same people working in the exact same time, so you lose some social capital that has to be rebuilt)
- Brand value loss (I remember many Berliners disappointed when Air Berlin went bust)
Plus, in extreme cases as in during financial meltdowns, letting companies go bust accelerates the meltdown.
Many economists today recognize that letting Lehman Brothers fail was the biggest mistake in the whole 2008 financial crisis.
This is not to say that the costs of bankruptcies are always and necessarily high.
And even less to say that they are too high to let companies fail. Indeed, Ben is right. Most of the time it’s probably far better to let the company fail.
The small short-term costs will probably be made up over time.
But it’s not true that there are no costs and no downsides with bankruptcies: there are plenty of costs.
5. Sometimes Disempowering
Let me preface this by saying that the “disempowering messages or moments” are extremely few.
Still, since we care about general empowerment here, we want to address this:
Charlie: the difference between me and Lebron James is roughly the same as Lisa Leslie to Lebron James, right (…) I was born with a deficiency of testosterone that preclude me from ever competing against Lebron James
This is an argument Charlie repeats often when he tries to justify his approval of trans-athletes competing against biologically born females -something I and most other viewers disagree with, but let’s skip that now-.
However, without a good preamble, that can come across as a very disempowering mindset.
It might seem like it’s stating facts, but it’s stating facts that are heavily skewed against him to make him look as bad as possible.
Charlie might have less testosterone than Lebron, I don’t know that, but let’s imagine it’s true.
Does that mean he can’t compete?
Well, he’s still definitely shorter and probably less athletically predisposed at playing basketball.
But who says that basketball is the main yardstick for competition? Because the two may compete, say, at launching a business on social skills -and Charlie’s likely kicks Lebron’s ass there-.
Even if we narrow the competition to “physical competition”, I see no reason why Charlie couldn’t go head-to-heard on some other sports.
Had he picked, say, rope climbing, it’s now Charlie’s thinner frame that might give him a huge, inborn leg-up.
Or, if we also want to consider “racial background” in what gives people an advantage or disadvantage, had he picked cycling, he might have also prevailed -especially if uphill cycling, where lighter cyclists often have an advantage over larger ones-.
Even if we talk in terms of “life utility”, if society were to collapse, being fast on a motorbike would be a lot more helpful than shooting hoops in a basket.
And if that collapse goes on for longer, being fast on a horse may become more important -something where Charlie could outdo most basketball players-.
OK, that’s a lot of “criticism” :).
Now let’s review some golden nuggets besides the initial high-level ones we mentioned in the beginning:
The “What’s The Future Slavery” question
The guys are pescatarians because they say modern animal farming is brutal and unethical.
They say it’s the equivalent of slavery: today most people take it for granted that slavery is unethical and odious. But back in the days, it was normal.
Similarly, in the future, people will take it for granted that current animal farming and slaughterhouses are brutal and odious, but this concept hasn’t yet reached the masses.
If I recall correctly, Charlie reached that conclusion by asking himself exactly that:
What’s the present equivalent of slavery?
I found that approach quite enlightening.
Healthy personal growth does not pursue the same ever-growing goal, but evolves either laterally, or by changing goals
Ben makes the point here that if you keep chasing growth in the same field, then you’re not after growth, but trying to fill a void.
They were talking about YouTubers chasing views and subscribers and never switching to another type of growth, like more free time, or personal enlightenment.
Albeit he doesn’t expressly say it, I think Ben is especially referring to vanity metrics or to typical markers of “success” like money, turnover, company size, attractive partner, or the number of partners.
I had never thought about it, and it was eye-opening.
Ben touches on a very important aspect at the intersection between power dynamics and personal self-development.
He says of a member of the “Young Turks”, a group of left-wing folks who go very heavy on attacking others, especially those with different political orientations:
Ben: Well i’ve experienced this. It’s fun to be judgmental (…) and feel superior to people and you lose all of that with empathy.
If you have empathy you won’t shit-talk anybody (…), so you get none of those temporarily great feelings
She feels awesome shit-talking on those people and doesn’t want to give that up in exchange for understanding them better. That’s a very unappealing short-term trade and in the long run (it would be) much better for her
This is a genius insight.
While I had previously only analyzed these dynamics from a power point of view, I had under-estimated the personal development point of view, and completely missed the role that empathy might also play.
Pushing others down and social climbing feels good in the short run and may give the social climber some short-term power boost.
However, it’s a “glass ceiling behavior” in the sense that it puts a glass ceiling on you, preventing you from flying higher and from achieving a higher level of success and self-fulfillment.
Ben here says that developing empathy and understanding for others can help solidify a more eagle-like personality, which indeed makes sense.
The “Informed Citizen” Lie (Enlightened Individualism)
When it comes to news -or avoiding the news- Charlie said it best:
There is a myth of the informed citizen, which tells you that you have to react or overreact and discuss all the things you see in the news because it’s screamed at you and you’re told that’s important (…)
If you can’t influence it, make it better, leave it alone (…)
Instead, go help an old woman cross the street or go to a food bank, or donate, or give a hug, or call your loved ones. Do some good.
I actually wished he’d repeat that more often.
People see what you do, more than hear what you say. So when they see them commenting the news, they may fall for that myth.
Instead, I’d recommend you take the method to analyze the news, more than discussing the news itself.
Referring again to slavery and the (positive) evolution of people’s ethics:
Ben: It’s easy not to own slaves when you have apps that do everything and if you own slaves you go to jail. It’s the easiest time ever not to own a slave.
On citations as a power move:
Charlie: But we have this “belief in the science mentality”, on every side they’ll reference studies they don’t understand
On “God” power moves:
Ben: She said, “If God wanted us to cover our mouths and noses, he would have made us that way. She was wearing glasses at the time”. She was wearing glasses at the time because God didn’t giver her 20/20 vision.
Ben on news that he found “good” and worth commenting on:
Ben: I got one more thing, it’s interesting, mostly because it just confirms something i already believed, which is everyone’s favorite news
That was a great one, and a good way to end this long review :).
I really like the Charlie & Ben Podcast.
It’s also the first podcast we review here after countless books and courses.
At the time of this writing, I’ve seen all available episodes.
I enjoy them whenever I’m eating on my own. Rather than just sitting there with the food, I use that time for YouTube or audiobooks.
For me, it’s both a pleasure to hear two smart and partially like-minded guys discuss the current events that I largely ignore, and also a source of business intel since we are both in the same space -I learned a lot from whenever they shared the behind-the-scenes of Charisma on Command-.
But the main reason why we decided to review it is that:
- Learn critical thinking skills, via their analyses, probing questions, and steel-manning opposing arguments
- Charlie and Ben are good role models of standup folks. Ben particularly seems to be a good eagle-type of guy to emulate (Charlie may join the club as soon as he loses the Smart Alec and covert social climbing approach, including when he points at an argument’s fallacy and then laughs)
Our main disagreement is that, sometimes, they go so far in their effort of trying to be open-minded and not rushing to conclusions that they end up sounding surprisingly naive for the two smart guys they are.
But, Overall, thumbs up for the Charlie & Ben podcast, and they get the TPM stamp of approval :).