Dan Carlin: Hardcore History | Lex Fridman Podcast #136 | Summary and Q&A

November 2, 2020
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Dan Carlin: Hardcore History | Lex Fridman Podcast #136


Dan Carlin shares his thoughts on the nature of good and evil, the challenges of modern American society, and the role of force and violence in human interaction.

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Key Insights

  • 🌟 The influence of podcasts: The content highlights the impact of podcasts on individuals, with Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast being mentioned as a strong influencer in the medium.
  • 🌍 Importance of understanding history: The conversation emphasizes the necessity of understanding human history in order to navigate challenging moments and work towards a better future.
  • 💡 Defining evil and suffering: The discussion explores the definition of evil, questioning whether it is situational and subjective, and connects it to the concept of suffering.
  • 🚫 The dangers of inflicting suffering: The conversation acknowledges that intentionally causing suffering is a concerning aspect that can lead to destruction and harm.
  • ⚖️ Motivations of leaders: The discussion delves into the motivations of historical leaders like Stalin and Hitler, examining their beliefs and intentions, even if it conflicts with popular notions of 'evil'.
  • 💪 Force versus violence: The conversation reflects on the necessity of force in certain situations, highlighting the importance of understanding the distinction between force and violence.
  • 🛡️ The role of force in society: The discussion considers the role of force in maintaining societal balance, protection, and preventing harm on both individual and civilizational levels.
  • 🌍 The future of war: There is a reflection on whether war will always be a part of human existence, and the challenge of finding strategies to minimize overuse or misuse of force.


the following is a conversation with dan carlin host of hardcore history and common sense podcasts to me hardcore history is one of if not the greatest podcast ever made dan and joe rogan are probably the two main people who got me to fall in love with the medium of podcasting as a fan and eventually as a podcaster myself meeting dan was surreal to... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Dan Carlin define evil?

Carlin suggests that evil may involve inflicting intentional suffering on others, causing pain, and creating more suffering in the world than there was before.

Q: How does Carlin view the motivations of historical figures like Stalin and Hitler?

Carlin believes that figures like Stalin genuinely believed they were doing good for the world, even if their actions resulted in immense suffering. He highlights the complexities of the intentions behind their actions.

Q: Does Carlin believe that the motivations of evil individuals are influenced by their upbringing or psychological factors?

Carlin discusses the possibility that some individuals may be born evil due to a combination of genetic factors and negative experiences during their upbringing. However, he also acknowledges the role of twisted ideologies and psychological factors in determining one's actions.

Q: Can force and violence be separated in society?

Carlin suggests that force is a necessary component of society as it acts as a counterbalance to prevent harm. However, he acknowledges that violence can often result from the use of force and the line between the two is blurred.

Q: How does Carlin perceive the role of military and warfare?

Carlin distinguishes between the soldiers on the front lines who protect and defend, and the leaders and systems that control the military-industrial complex. He emphasizes the importance of respecting and supporting soldiers while expressing skepticism towards the higher echelons of military power.

Q: What are Carlin's thoughts on the love for one's country and patriotism?

Carlin acknowledges the importance of love for one's country but questions the manipulation and propaganda often associated with patriotism. He believes in maintaining a healthy skepticism of the nation-state and governments.

Q: How does Carlin analyze the leadership of Vladimir Putin?

Carlin believes that as long as Putin is elected by the Russian people and doesn't suppress their ability to choose their leader, it is the choice of the Russian nation. However, he also highlights the need for a system that can outlive Putin's rule and ensures a stable transition of power.

Q: Does Carlin think that truth and universal truths are fading in today's society?

Carlin acknowledges that the internet age has made it easier for various groups to create their own versions of truth. However, he emphasizes the importance of critical thinking, seeking multiple perspectives, and recognizing biases to navigate a world with different beliefs and truths.


This conversation is between Lex Friedman and Dan Carlin, the host of Hardcore History and Common Sense podcasts. They discuss topics such as the nature of good and evil, the reasons behind inflicting suffering, the motivations of historical figures like Stalin and Hitler, the distinction between violence and force, the inevitability of war, and the complexities of patriotism and ideological societies. They explore different perspectives and question widely held beliefs, providing thought-provoking insights.

Questions & Answers

Q: Do you think human beings are fundamentally good or capable of both good and evil?

The question of human nature is complex, but I believe it is a combination of both. People have the capacity for both good and evil, and their trajectory in life is influenced by their environment and circumstances. The definition of evil can vary, but I see it as actions that cause pain, suffering, and destruction for others. Evil is deeply connected to suffering, and when individuals create more suffering than there was before, they can be considered evil.

Q: Is evil subjective or objective?

Evil can be considered subjective to some extent because it is influenced by personal perspectives and values. However, there is an objective aspect to it as well. When one's actions lead to widespread pain, suffering, and destruction, it can be considered objectively evil. The consequences and impact on others are important factors in determining the nature of evil.

Q: Can someone be evil without considering themselves as such?

It is possible for individuals to commit acts that are objectively evil without perceiving themselves as evil. Historical figures like Stalin believed they were doing good for the world, even if it required causing suffering and eliminating those who stood in the way of their vision. Their intentions and motivations may have been based on their distorted worldview, but they genuinely believed they were working towards a better future.

Q: Do motivations matter when assessing the evilness of actions?

Motivations play a crucial role in understanding the intentions behind actions. It is not solely the end result that determines whether an action is evil. For example, if someone inflicts suffering on a smaller group to prevent greater suffering for a larger group, their motives may be seen as rational and justifiable. It raises the question of whether the intentions and reasoning behind an action can mitigate or overshadow the inherent evilness of the act itself.

Q: Is force necessary for the functioning of society?

Force, in the form of counterforce, is an inevitable aspect of society and civilization. While violence may be something we should strive to minimize, force is required to maintain order, protect against threats, and prevent the impetus of malicious movements. Force can be viewed as a fundamental law of physics in human interaction, where sometimes pushing back is necessary to stop something from moving in a detrimental direction.

Q: What is the difference between violence and force?

Violence and force have some overlap, but there is a distinction between the two. Violence typically involves intentional harm inflicted on others, often without justifiable cause. Force, on the other hand, can encompass a broader range of actions aimed at creating counterforce to protect against harm or to stop unwanted actions. While violence may be more extreme and inherently harmful, force can be seen as a necessary tool within the boundaries of ethical and responsible behavior.

Q: Will war always exist in human societies?

The presence of war is connected to the question of force and the need to protect against threats. It is challenging to envision a society completely devoid of war as long as nations and power dynamics exist. Preventing the actions of one nation-state that may be detrimental to others or the global community often requires a level of force or the threat of force. The idea of a united world entity or different approaches to conflict resolution, such as peaceful negotiations and international cooperation, may hold potential for minimizing war, but the complete eradication of war remains uncertain.

Q: How do personal biases and ideologies affect our perception of war and conflict?

Our biases, preconceptions, and ideological perspectives significantly influence how we view war, conflict, and the actions of others. It can be challenging to escape our own biases and understand alternative viewpoints. Ideological societies, like the Soviet Union or the United States, often tie patriotism and national pride to specific ideological frameworks. These frameworks can shape our perception of war, government actions, and the motivations behind them. Recognizing and trying to understand other perspectives is crucial for minimizing conflicts and achieving a more comprehensive understanding of complex global issues.

Q: Is it possible to view actions through multiple perspectives and understand different viewpoints?

It is challenging but essential to consider alternative perspectives when examining historical events, conflicts, and the motivations of individuals. Stepping outside our own biases and preconceptions allows for a more profound understanding of the complexities and nuances of human actions and their consequences. Interpreting events through multiple viewpoints can help build empathy, facilitate effective communication, and foster a greater sense of understanding and cooperation.

Q: Can a belief in the nation and collective goals be as powerful as belief in individual freedoms?

A belief in collective goals and the collective well-being can be as powerful as a belief in individual freedoms. Different societies place various degrees of value on individuality and collectivism. Ideological societies often emphasize the collective, where individuals are encouraged to prioritize the greater good and the wellbeing of the community over personal interests. The power of national pride, loyalty, and the sense of belonging to a larger entity can be profound and unite people for what they perceive as a greater cause. When deeply rooted in shared beliefs, these collective aspirations can provide a sense of purpose and motivate people to work towards communal goals.


This conversation challenges us to examine our deeply held beliefs and question the nature of good and evil. It underscores the importance of understanding alternative perspectives and recognizing the interplay between personal biases, ideologies, and historical context when interpreting events. By delving into the complexities of force, violence, war, and patriotism, we are encouraged to develop empathy and strive for a deeper understanding of human nature and the mechanisms that drive societies. Ultimately, the quest for a more peaceful future requires open-mindedness, critical thinking, and a willingness to question our own assumptions.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Dan Carlin discusses the concepts of good and evil, questioning whether humans are fundamentally good or if their actions are shaped by their environment.

  • He delves into the nature of evil, suggesting that it may involve inflicting intentional suffering on others, but also explores the complexities of motivations behind evil acts.

  • Carlin explores the interplay between force and violence, emphasizing the importance of force in maintaining a functioning society while acknowledging the need to reduce violence.


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