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Conversations with Lu Episode One: Robert Klitgaard

Professor Robert Klitgaard from Claremont Graduate University and I discuss his new book, Prevail: How to Face Upheavals and Make Big Choices with the Help of Heroes.

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Host: Philip Lu

Producers: Brandon Mansur, Albert Cramer, Philip Lu

Set Design: Liqing Peng

Episode 1 Transcript:

lightly edited

Philip Lu: Welcome to Conversations with Lu, I’m here with Professor Robert Klitgaard, University Professor at Claremont Graduate University, and we’re here to talk about his new book, Prevail: How to Face Upheavals and Make Good Choices with the Help of Heroes.

I wanted to start with just hearing more about your background and kind of how that informs the writing of this book.

Robert Klitgaard: I finished it there in Bhutan, we have a three-week quarantine when you arrive there as a foreigner or as anybody really so we’re in your cabin they deliver breakfast lunch and dinner, and you can’t leave so it’s a good place to do work.

But the book began when somebody gave me a book called The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis wrote this in 1441 for a bunch of monks in Germany, where he was kind of the number two guy who was in charge of keeping the monks trained. It’s called the second most read book in Christianity, probably more in Catholicism, after the Bible.

When you read this book and it’s shocking it basically says, life is not where you want to be, what you should be is dead, so as far as you can impersonate being dead, while you’re alive, please do because the world is a terrible place avoid it. I read this book and called the friend up who gave it to me and said, “What’s up? What would you give me this for?” She said, “Well, I thought you’d be interested in it.” I said, “But it seems completely wrong to me.” So, the next day I spent some time trying to write an extension of the argument of Thomas à Kempis that yes, the world’s a dangerous place, but our obligation is neither to spurn it or to grab it but to live in it, with all its imperfections and all of our imperfections, and try to do something more, and that was the genesis of this book over a period of time, reading more, learning more, thinking more, and then having the time in Bhutan to just finish it up.

Philip Lu: When I was reading and I was thinking what was unique about the book is that it’s not a conventional self-help book per se, but rather interconnects your work in development with the kind of advice on how to improve yourself as a human being and so I was curious to hear more about how that really informed your worldview and your work through your entire career helping anti-corruption efforts and the world of development.

Robert Klitgaard: Well, it didn’t inform that work, because that work was well before this, but there are a couple of themes in common. One of the themes is that if you face a big upheaval as an individual or as a country and you have to make a transformative decision: should we change our whole economic strategy, should we change our form of government?

Those decisions are things that you really can’t track using statistical regularities across countries or people; those are decisions that depend on who you think you are and recognizing that the choice you make as a country 10 years from now—you’re going to be a different country—or the choice you make as a person—you’re going to be a different person. So how do you make a choice when you don’t know the person you’re making the choice for who happens to be you or happens to be your country?

So it’s very different from the kind of studies that you and I did where you do economic analysis and have rational choice models, or you have decision analysis and you take the risks and rewards into account, given a utility function and solve the problem, this one is where the utility function is going to be different 10 years from now and where we really can’t project—we don’t know what the probabilities are. So how do we make decisions under those conditions and that’s what this book is about.

The echoes it has to some policy choices are this: that the idea that you as a psychologist or an economist or sociologist or whatever you happen to bring to the table, the idea that you can tell somebody else this is the best choice—not a good idea—and much better is to say, “You have unique problems, unique contexts, but I think you can learn a lot if you look at other context other people facing similar problems.” I think that’s true of countries, as well as individuals, so that’s a connection between the two.

Philip Lu: I know you use that term called convening in chapter eight—I’m really not sure if that’s a term that was used before, but I think it’s showing where you don’t talk about, “Well I’m the all-knowing expert and I’m here to help.” I’d rather show I have the expertise, but at the same time I want to be an equal partner, because I want to acknowledge that you have a lot of experience in dealing with this problem and having the history to share with me.

Robert Klitgaard: Well, I know in your work with sustainable development and environmental stuff, you run into a similar situation where there’s local context that are absolutely crucial to solving or even improving the problem you’re facing and they are facing . Yet, there is generic international knowledge about irrigation systems, about forests, and about fisheries where if people can be put into a mood to think about other examples, other data, other models in a respectful way that invokes their creativity then you can make some real progress.

So this book and the other one called The Culture and Development Manifesto which came out last year is about—that’s the more collective rather than individual version of this—that’s about how we cannot just say, give them the money, let the locals solve their problems or in personal terms, just give me the resources I needed, I’ll take care of it respect my autonomy. Rather it says your problem has echoes and frameworks outside of your local situation and if you take those into account, you will be more personally responsible or collectively responsible for solutions so that there’s an optimal mix, if you will, between the idea of local knowledge and outside knowledge and somehow, we got to put those together and that’s true for us as individuals. We have psychologists and religious leaders and others who can tell us things maybe in a group context or maybe as individual counselors, but they can’t tell us what to do because our situation is different. If they evoke out those things and find a process to share that with us in ways that we can assimilate it, use it, and have our own autonomy, then that’s the secret, I think, to good counseling.

Philip Lu: My other question was I was really interested in when you mentioned Philip Zimbardo’s Heroic Imagination Project in chapter four and how you’re talking about how there were several different kind of techniques to develop people into becoming more heroic. The passages that really struck out to me were, “our mindsets—the set of beliefs, we have about whether our abilities can be grown or changed—profoundly impact the way we work, play, explore, and live.” and then he goes on to say, “the opposite of a hero, is not a villain but a bystander, someone who does nothing during adverse situations.” So, for me when I’m hearing this, he wants people to be active right? I remember from one of my personal heroes, Ralph Nader, he had a satirical organization called the Society of the Apathetics and he had a motto…

Robert Klitgaard: Haha same idea.

Philip Lu: Haha yeah…that he’d written for this society that talked about how I will bear any kind of oppression, simply so I don’t have to do anything.

Robert Klitgaard: Zimbardo’s contribution in that case is we have this idea of a hero, which is Superman or Harry Potter or Martin Luther King or Ulysses or something that we could never be and what Zimbardo did was so let’s focus more on heroic acts actions than heroic people or mythological characters. He pointed out, maybe a third of people in America, measuring it in various ways, have committed a heroic act and what he means by that is putting other people first, at risk of themselves for a good that’s beyond their material welfare. Wow! So, then he thought what characterizes those people, and he and his colleagues studied them and he found that they had this, what you said, they had a kind of attitude that I’m not just a watcher here in this world, I’m actually a person who can act. When they realize that, in a big way, maybe through a religious conversion or a political stance or an example of heroic work that they did in the military or in the health sector or somewhere else, when they realize that, then they can do that each day in small ways.

That’s another lesson of this book that was interesting to me when I was doing the research is that heroic acts can be very small. It can be every day, and the other side of the heroic acts that I really learned a lot from was that they don’t have to be functional in the sense of you’re in my training doing policy analysis and evaluation and economics and so forth. They can be artistic and what they mean by artistic is there’s an aesthetic element to this where the style with which you engage with everyday actions has its own message and its own importance. I thought that is a super important way to approach this problem. If we think about heroic acts and heroic heroes we think of them aesthetically. What that means is what is it that connects with us, what do we feel here and what is it that enables us to deal with small and large things but let’s talk about small things in our own way, imperfect as we are, constrained as we are in our impact, confused as we are in our ideas. Are there ways that, in small ways, we can live an artistically integrated life, every day? I think that when you think of it that way, “Wow that is cool, let me try that tomorrow, let me see if I can do three things tomorrow that are heroic—maybe too strong a word—but that are aesthetically altruistic and outside myself in small ways that have a certain style and purity that I admire.” I think with that we can at least I think I can mobilize myself a little more, if I have that in my head.

Philip Lu: It sounds like you need to have this level of self-awareness in order to truly express yourself in a way that I think people really connect with, at least that’s my understanding. So, there’s this last part from Zimbardo where he was talking about learning about implicit and explicit biases. I think that really ties into what I’d studied under you when we were talking about how you have to figure out first what your implicit and explicit biases are and then you can finally change them. Apparently people who are prejudiced are more likely to be bystanders (chuckle) so it’s kind of a win, win.

Robert Klitgaard: Yeah well, I know you studied awareness in your work overseas and here. You’ve thought about that very hard and not just thought about it but aesthetically experienced it, and so you’ve been able to internalize to yourself how much, how important that is and how strategic that is to your work on sustainable development and your work helping other people become more aware of sustainable development. That connection—which you yourself are exemplifying—is the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Philip Lu: When you’re talking to me about the artistic analogy, it’s just really important to think about even when you said that we were trying to move away from thinking of heroes solely as the great people of history and what they’ve actually accomplished; it’s good to just show that you’re able to appreciate it, and draw lessons from it, rather than feeling like, well I’m not measuring up per se, and I thought that was really inspiring.

Robert Klitgaard: That’s a key lesson. I was struck by a psychologist who had two mentors when he was a graduate student who just blew him away and he figured, “Wow I can know more about how these people can do this. They’re so self-aware but also not self-conscious. They’re so confident and they’re so engaged with their work, so what could be their type?” And he came up with the idea that it wasn’t just these two. The more he studied he found there’s a whole topology there and the crucial characteristic of these people is that they’re doing something that matters for its own sake. Not because it has some material reward even not that it has an impact on you know social change—maybe that’s how they got in there—but the fact that they’re doing it and they’re creating it or they’re making it or they’re writing it or they’re digging it or whatever they’re doing matters for its own sake. I think that’s another good clue for us when we’re thinking about ourselves, especially in times of upheavals or big decisions if we ask the question in my life so far, what has been something that mattered for its own sake and sit down and take a deep breath. Nietzsche recommended that you sit down and spend a lot of time and go through your stages, 15, 18, 21, whatever old. What were the things that mattered not extrinsically but intrinsically and he claimed, Nietzsche, that if you write those down, you will see a ladder there that you can climb up as you make your big decisions now.

That’s a form of self-awareness, I think, if you think about yourself, and I think that’s a very useful tool.

Philip Lu: I was just going to think about how when you’re looking to accomplish something first say, for example, if you’re someone who is very career-driven, you’re looking at well if I accomplish A, B, and C, I will get that promotion or I’ll get that higher salary, but in reality from—I guess just from my personal experience—if you’re really just doing it because you want to do it per se you’re actually ultimately more successful than if you just think well I’m just doing this merely as a means to an end.

Robert Klitgaard: I was impressed by there was a philosopher I studied long ago, Mortiz Schlick, a German logical positivist in the 1920s. Schlick in those days wrote a paper which said that philosophy, maybe others have said this too, philosophy is like building a boat in the middle of the sea while you’re trying to float. The idea was that there was not this construction site over here, where you could make your philosophy, you have to live at the same time. So that was what I knew of Schlick and I came across a paper of his called On the Meaning of Life. Wow, 1927. So, I looked at it and it was remarkable, despite its sober title it had this very jaunty style and basically, he said don’t think of life as work, think of it as play, because play is something you do for its own sake. It’s true we have teams that play to win and sometimes you have goals to set when you’re doing individual excellence, workouts or running or anything else but the reason you play is because you enjoy it. He said that model is the one I want you to have about your own life that the things that really matter to you are things that you can do as if they were play.

You’ll see that theme throughout the book, where many authorities: psychologists, philosophers, and religious leaders will find this idea that—you know the old saying of Confucius if you find something you truly love you’ll never work another day in your life. So that idea is one that is hard for us to find if we are thinking, “Oh my God what’s my grand mission in life” and I never find it, but if we have that other idea of the small things that we’re going to do, every day, two, or three, in a certain style, in a certain care. Then we can begin to build a style for ourselves, which looks more like Schlick, where we do those things for their own sake and we are satisfied with them as small works of art, rather than as things that have a momentous impact on my bank account or on the nature of the world.

Philip Lu: I think that that might be one of the solutions to the increased automation of the workforce, too, because I think the work that’s going to be left is creative activities that need you to have kind of that play mindset that you were describing, because otherwise if you’re following a prescribed set of rules, I don’t think that’s going to allow you to be as dynamic in the industrial revolution 4.0 or something along those lines.

Robert Klitgaard: Somebody said the other day somebody and I don’t necessarily agree with this, but somebody said, if you have a job with a task which you can do in 10 minutes or less, in few years a robot will be doing that. So, it takes your point that you have to have this what you’re doing has to be something that is not simply a repetitive, efficient action has to have this aesthetic style. Another paper, written maybe three or four years ago, by one of the great labor economists, said that he thinks that the future will be combining. For example, there’ll be a big future in caregiving for older people and health care for all of us, and he thought if you combine that with your aesthetic interest of music or photography or pottery or whatever it is those guys are already making a premium. I thought wow that’s an idea, so you take your artistic side and you combine it with the helping side, and those are the people that people want to be around who are older people. They don’t just want a nurse they want a person who’s shares their photography or shares their interest in pottery.

Philip Lu: Actually, I was hearing about something that I thought was really intriguing was that to solve the issue of the housing crisis and then also the issue of loneliness in the elderly, they matched young people with the elderly, who had free room and board, but they’re there to inspire and talk to the elderly. I’m not sure where that was implemented, but I remember hearing that idea and just thinking well wow you’re taking two problems and creating one solution.

Robert Klitgaard: That would be cool wouldn’t it? I saw that also but I haven’t seen any evaluation or any generalization, but that sounds good to me.

Philip Lu: So, there’s a really intriguing part of the book, where I was considering well people hear that it’s really good to give being a giver is better than being a quote-unquote taker right, but actually you mentioned a really good passage from John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row about his friend Ed Ricketts that I really like. It’s talking about how receiving is kind of a nobler action and how it—he gave a kind of I would say, like a rant if you will, about big philanthropy—but towards the end he talks about, “In receiving you cannot appear, even to yourself, better or stronger or wiser than the giver, although you must be wiser to do it well.” Just thinking about how that kind of turns what we’ve been taught on its head, because I think as a kid, I was taught well it’s good to share and it’s good to give but we never really learned how it is to receive.

Robert Klitgaard: Yes, well, the paradox of this scheme that I have of the hero’s path, the last stage is sharing and serving. And as you said, all of us have heard that, since we were young. Every religion has something like the Golden Rule, so we all know that, and yet you know what not so much. Analytically, in economics there’s a question about what is the optimal kind and extent of altruism. If you think about it, you don’t want to cross the whole room to open the door for somebody who’s right next to the door even though it’s a nice thing to do, it’s not efficient. There’s a whole question of efficient altruism.

When that question was first raised by social scientists people like Marcel Mauss the author of The Gift in 1925 and basically a whole other set of intellectuals said, “Maybe the gifts people give in anthropology or in personal life are self-interested maybe they’re really strategic to invoke obligation or require reciprocation.” It was a way of undercutting the norms of gentility and courtesy, that a whole lot of intellectuals had as one of their goals implicitly was to get rid of all this stuff where we had to be good and sort of realize it’s all self-interest. There were Marxist versions of this and free-market versions of that, but the idea that Steinbeck had was similar to that it was that a philanthropist spends two thirds of her life or his life clawing the guts out of society and then one third putting them back in through philanthropic contributions and Steinbeck says it’s the same impulse I think, not different.

His friend Ed Ricketts was a real scientist and served as the model for Doc in Cannery Row had something else. With talking with a child or a drunk on the street or Steinbeck himself, he always would receive whatever idea they had or whatever thought they had or whatever thing they would bring him. People brought him things all the time. They would say, “What do you think of this?” and he’d say, “Oh that’s very interesting” and you probably know people like that, who are your teachers or your friends who respond to you, they listen to you, and they take what you give not first thing is argue against it, or criticize it, they appreciate it; they take your point of view.

I’ll give you one more example when I was in college, one of my professors was the great philosopher, John Rawls. Rawls, who wrote A Theory of Justice was amazing in class because he would get questions from juniors in college about his work. They would say, “Professor Rawls, idiocy one, idiocy two, idiocy three.” They would say these absurdities and Rawls you can see behind his glasses his eyes flickering as if they were a computer working away trying to figure out what on Earth is he saying and does it have any meaning? Rawls would re-express the question. He would ask himself the question, “Under what scheme of the world is that a good question?” Then he would re-express the question brilliantly and the student would go, “oh yeah, that’s what I was asking” and all of us would go really? Then he would answer the question, or at least locate the question and I thought that was a great example of listening with charity as well as genius—because he was a genius—but he wasn’t doing what a lot of philosophers and others intellectuals do, which is show how smart they are about beating the question down. “I don’t understand what you mean it’s not even exactly wrong”, you probably heard that but instead listening to the question, appreciate it, and as Steinbeck said about Ricketts as if it were a gift. Somehow this question is given to me right now, how can I make the best of this question? Isn’t that a wonderful lesson for all of us?

If we can be good receivers of the gifts people give us, metaphorically speaking, their ideas, their passions, their achievements, whatever they’re doing if we can receive those with that kind of perspicacity and sympathy, then this is a great gift. I think Steinbeck is exactly right. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to give with what we do in our lives. It doesn’t mean the Golden Rule is wrong in any way it just means that as a day-to-day tactic if we start thinking of ourselves as the givers or the teachers or the ones who have it, most people don’t, you know what that breeds: it breeds arrogance, it breeds disrespect, it breeds classism, and racism. We’ve got to avoid that, putting ourselves above these other people, even if in some sense they do need that, they are ignorant, they are displaced, they are in need. We have to make sure that our first impulse is to listen to them and receive whatever they have to offer. Then be very humble about what we have to offer because our generic knowledge and expertise is pretty shaky. It’s a chance for us to do both, and I think that’s one of the themes of this book, too, is the idea of both. We have to be both experts, no reason not to be you’ve got a great brain, use it and we have to be aware that we really don’t understand the problem, we don’t know what they want, we don’t know their situation, and so we bring our expertise in the humblest possible way. In the way you talked about earlier with convening we bring our expertise in a way that helps them A. Evoke their knowledge and interests and B. Utilize whatever it is, we have—imperfect as that may be—in ways that they can really own it and then do what they want, with their own autonomy intact.

Philip Lu: It’s really interesting that you bring up Rawls because I think it shows up in his philosophy of empathy (determining justice without empathy) where he talks about creating a society where you have no idea who you would be born as and I think that kind of speaks to your personal experience with him just kind of thinking in what universe, is this question a good question.

Robert Klitgaard: I could see his method breakdown. When in graduate school—I went back to graduate school—and I’d been a student as an undergraduate and he came to teach a module at the Kennedy School of Government on his book A Theory of Justice for public policy graduate students for eight weeks or so he asked me to be his TA so I said, “Sure.” The first week of class, there was a guy who was not there, the first week. What we’re doing is reading his book with him—maybe 20 people—and this student came the second day of class who hadn’t been there, the first week. He goes—one of these urban guys—he goes, “Professor Rawls I wasn’t here last week, but could you just summarize your book in a minute for me? Give me the executive summary of your book.” I watched Rawls do his thing you know with a computer doing its best to figure out under what world is that a good question? After about a minute the computer failed and he could not figure out a way that that question was a good question. He said, “I really can’t.”

Philip Lu: Going back to the topic of gifts, when you’re talking about in the book how there’s different kinds of types of giving you bring up the example of bribery. The interesting insight that I grabbed was that, a real gift is, and this is a quote from book “…is wholly the recipient’s and, in the limit, creates no obligation.” I think that was a really great contrast in terms of solving that philosopher’s dilemma where is there really true altruism? Do gifts really have no strings attached? It brings up divine grace, that’s kind of where I was thinking about when I read this, which is the idea that it’s given freely, no obligations, you are happy to accept and that’s really all there is to it. It’s just given freely.

Robert Klitgaard: The man who wrote the greatest book on the subject is John T. Noonan who wrote a book called Bribes. Noonan was a great judge, as well as a law professor at Berkeley. Noonan was an ardent Catholic and his interest in this problem was partly motivated by the idea, the works versus grace idea. There is an idea in all religions that somehow you got to earn your way in here; you got to be good to get merits or to get things which will help you get somewhere. Then close to that is the idea that, no matter how far you get infinity is infinitely far away. What you need is something different, which is the idea of grace. Noonan was making the point that there is an idea of transactionality in doing good. There’s also an idea that there’s not a transaction; you do it for its own sake. It connects to what we’re talking about earlier about things that are truly dignified of our attention, or things that matter for their own sake, to us, and that may be different for you and for me and somebody else but it’s intrinsically valuable.

This is the lesson that the psychologists and all the other things in the book I cite from religion to psychology about this testimony to this idea. Well Noonan makes the same point about gifts, so when you give a gift for its own sake, a gift is identified by the fact that I have tastes and I know you and I know your tastes and I declare that this gift is an identity or a correspondence between our tastes. It’s an affinity that my gift declares and what a wonderful thing to receive from somebody who’s listened to you and knows enough about you and also has discrimination from her own side or his own side to be able to pick out something that really is meaningful to you.

I’m sure you’ve had people in your life, it wasn’t about gifts, it was about ideas, or about teachers or about something else or counselors, where you’ve met people who understood you and with the right moment came up with the right thing that they happen to know about, or having to be able to do and it corresponded to exactly what worked for you at that moment and that’s a declaration of friendship, appreciation, and in the limit as Noonan says it’s a declaration of love.

Philip Lu: I think sometimes you really express surprise since you didn’t realize that they had this insight about you and I guess it really does brighten up someone’s day to realize that they were understood under whatever circumstance to be able to receive something that was so meaningful to them.

Robert Klitgaard: And so, when you when you see that and we go back to the aesthetic thing that you can do every day the people you know if you step back and say what do they need, and it might be nothing right now, but at some point you see somebody going through something, and if you know them well enough, then you provide something small that declares an affinity between you and them and that helps them—it’s not the right word—it inspires them it, reinforces them, it supports them.

Philip Lu: It definitely fits into an unconventional part of your book, which is talking for an entire chapter about romance, all the facets, and it struck me that one of the things about a real strong attachment that’s a partnership is just the mutual understanding; how you’re willing to be in a situation where you feel like you’re able to simply exist and be with the other person, be it in any kind of facet.

Robert Klitgaard: The big difference between the romantic relationship and the friendship relationship is there something more, and that is sexuality which the philosophers and the church fathers and others have not done a good job with, from ancient times to modern times. The book relies on a British novelist and philosopher, Murdoch, Iris Murdoch, as the one who opened my eyes to the fact that if I’m writing a book about purpose and meaning and flourishing and prevailing and I’m leaving out sexuality and romance, what am I doing? That really triggered me a few years ago, three, four years ago.

I started reading into this. First I read the great philosophers and theologians—pretty arid stuff. Then, I started reading other things from really historical and biographical things and I found the examples that are—I hope they’re amusing—in the book and entertaining of people like a Vladimir Nabokov and his wife, Véra, and John Stuart Mill and his paramour partner Harriet and others have this characteristic, they have a shared purpose that’s outside of themselves. It’s true that they also have—we don’t know about John Stuart Mill—but we think they also have this great physical passion and the point Murdoch makes is that the sexuality, that concreteness of it is essential to understanding something real about life itself and I thought that was a profound point. That we are physical beings and there’s something about this amazing experience of having sex with someone you love and getting your mind blown that is not just in here, it also resonates out there. At least that’s the proposition in this book.

The book really has two pieces of advice for lovers and potential lovers: Is first to be attentive to this, not just as something completely different from the noble part of your life. It’s not like going on let’s say a huge thrilling ride where you come down a roller coaster and you get yourself scared to wits, it’s not like that or it’s not like a great drunken orgy where you have these tremendous sensual experiences and pass out. It’s something that connects to something very human and very important about love and the things we were talking about earlier but other people having something that is outside yourself. Iris Murdoch calls it unselfing. It unselfs you. That means it’s fundamentally not egotistical, and that is a mind blower. But it’s not innocent and I think this is another part that’s so important about understanding this. Murdoch points out in her novels particularly how dangerous these romantic relationships are and we know from Louis CK and all these crazy people who are performing all of these, Weinstein, all of these guys, doing all this stuff. We know how abusive sex can become and how domineering It is particularly for women who are in positions underneath people of power. It’s just an awful thing, and therefore we can respect what the church fathers said about chastity and watch out for this stuff you know, and all these philosophers who basically avoided it because it’s so uncomfortable.

Both those things are true and I believe that too is a lesson that applies outside of romantic relationships; that the heroic thing is intrinsically dangerous, doing something that is for its own sake. But it doesn’t mean, “Oh I got it for my own sake, everything’s smooth now!” Nope you’re in a crazy sinful world and you’re going to be buffeted around, and the only thing you’ve got going for you, your small levels of talent or big—your small levels of talent—and this idea that you know that this is worth it for its own sake and you keep on that line and all the rest of it will still be there. You’re not going to resolve that, but it could vanish in terms of its impact on who you are as a person. Similarly, even though sexual relations are maybe intrinsically subject to things like domination, abuse, addiction, at the same time they are keys and entry points into something sublime and, as you said something that involves doing something together. Where together you follow the same path that you would as an individual and find things together that are intrinsically meaningful, that you can do as partnerships, and I think these great love stories have that in common. There’s great passion and there’s great service and dedication to other people that come through their partnership.

Philip Lu: It’s interesting when you mentioned the rules that I guess were prescribed by church fathers and other religious authorities and how when you mentioned backsliding right in that chapter and talking about how sometimes this is, to paraphrase, the cure might be worse than disease, because you start developing an ossified ideology where we have these rules and it causes people who may not have the best direction to hold on to these rules but then it creates a self-oppression or self-repression. That means that ultimately maybe that’s the reason why there’s so much sexual addiction and so many of these problems because there’s no real healthy outlet for it to happen because of these rules that are prescribed.

Robert Klitgaard: That’s interesting I hadn’t thought about that part of it, what I was, but I think it’s true, it’s true, there is, there is a lot of element where you see the most abusive women, maybe the most sexually repressive societies, but that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods here in places that are very sexually liberated. We see a lot of gender abuse and so forth, but you’re right that the paradox of that chapter is both and again this sort of both sides of this. On the one hand if we don’t recognize say, take secular insights, not just religious ones, but if we don’t recognize that our big ideas or big moments of clarity about what we’re trying to do, what’s intrinsically valuable, if we don’t understand that, those will erode over time. That insight we have will slowly, that insight sort of dims and what happens is then we go back to have it we go back to habit, we go back to conformity, we go back to things we don’t necessarily want to do.

Understanding this backsliding or relapse tendency that is entirely not religious, it’s entirely almost everything we care about has this, from working out, to doing your reading, to making sure you walk in the daytime, to taking care of big things in your life. You kind of, “Well yeah I thought I did understand that, but I kind of forgot it.” Throughout history, schools of thought, philosophers, schools of religion and others, think of sports teams, have disciplines that do to keep us aware. We work out certain ways, we practice certain ways, there are certain group conventions and guarantees.

I use the model of addiction, because I think addiction is interesting how people fight addiction is they recognize that they’re going to slide into this thing, so they do things that circumscribe their ability to slide. They don’t have alcohol in the house. They don’t go to the club, where they once took cocaine. They don’t wear certain kinds of clothes and so forth, so there’s ways of self-limiting and then there’s ways of together doing things that we can help each other and be accountable to each other that helps us from sliding and losing it. But as you said, the point is sometimes the prevention devices that we use to avoid backsliding can then arise to a point of a controlling society where you’re not allowed to say certain things, you’re not allowed to believe certain things, you’re not allowed to go out with these kinds of people, you can’t wear these clothes, because we know what happens when you do, you backslide. Those societies are some of the most oppressive societies in the world. The trick is, taking it away from totalitarian societies to ourselves. How can we prevent backsliding without setting up artificial doctrines, procedures which themselves are unheroic, unreligious, unworthy of our deepest beliefs and that’s what that chapter is about: how to set up that recognition that both those things can happen and how then move forward with eagerness and with adroitness.

Philip Lu: That falls into another question which is for me the question of identity. When we’re talking about trying to avoid kind of this situation where we’re copying how someone has actually lived their lives, but where does the inspiration from a hero end and emulation begin? Because trying to figure out when you’re taking these lessons from these great people or from heroic actions, how can you separate that from feeling like you’re becoming doctrinaire and just imitating what they’re doing? Which I think is a very tough thing to get a handle on, especially in the modern age.

Robert Klitgaard: Mm-hmm that’s a good point. So, tacking into that point there are, let’s call it the rationalist philosophers who think that if we figure this out, if we just figured it out then do it, so stop the drama. And then there are, to use a different word existentialist philosophers who think the answer you figured out for your time and your place and for all of humanity doesn’t apply to me. In fact, you’re ignoring individuals, you’re ignoring their day-to-day tasks and some of those philosophers like Kierkegaard said you wake up in the morning and have got to resolve this problem every day. You can’t figure it out once and for all, like how to set up a basketball court. There’s a basic tension there between the rational person who tries to figure things out and the aesthetic person who tries to see the beauty and contradiction in things and moves forward, nonetheless.

What the book concludes at the end is that when we think of heroes, we should think of them, not as doctrines to follow. Probably both and is right, there is a doctrine there, but what we should think of them as exemplars to inspire—imitate in our own small way because we can’t be Martin Luther King—but to inspire us to face our own upheavals and our own dramas and get some perspective on them. So, we avoid the enemy here is when we’re faced with an upheaval or a big decision and we’re so confused that we forget what we’re trying to do. We forget our purpose or we’re so upset that we lose our cognitive understanding of the way the world works. We kind of forget about class structures or systematic racism or the value of markets or democracy or whatever it is. We forget about it. We were so confused that all those things then disappear and we’re out on our own, and we forget to be grateful. We’re so confused and hurt that we don’t think every day when we get up to look at that sky, look at that dog, little things, or big things, look at this crazy life we’re in, and it’s amazing.

And finally, the other danger is where we get this confusion and upheaval is when we start thinking you know what it’s every person for herself or himself. I’m going to stop thinking about what I can do to help the world or start thinking about what I can paint to make beautiful things, I’m just going to grab what’s there. This book is about the tendency as individuals that when we’re faced with upheavals or big decisions that the purpose, the meaning, the gratitude, and the sharing and serving are eroded, or else dissolved. I think I would say this, Philip, that this does echo with problems of societies. I think it’s also true for societies going through upheavals and facing transformative decisions that the key tasks for them when they do this is they’re just thinking, “How can I cope, how can I, how?” They have to think what are we trying to do again, what is our big idea? What is our gratitude? How do we appreciate our history of where we are right now, and how can we move forward with an altruistic attitude, rather than one of just grab it here and forget about everything else? I think that’s our connection between the two problems of personal decisions under upheavals and societal decisions under upheavals which I think is worth thinking about. I don’t have a solution to that, but I think that analogy is fruitful and will help people again get a little bit different perspective on their own current situation.

Philip Lu: Well, thank you, Professor Klitgaard. This has been really inspiring. I think people that wanted to delve more into these topics to first purchase your new book, Prevail, but also look at your body at work, too, because it’s quite extensive and you really do have an eclectic variety of interests. I must say so that was why I enjoyed taking the class with you because you weren’t siloed in this one specific subject, but you had a variety of interests. I think it makes life a lot more interesting.

Robert Klitgaard: Well, thanks very much, Philip, and I look forward to working with you in the months and years to come.

Philip Lu: Absolutely well, thank you again, and again, Professor Klitgaard’s new book, Prevail, is available at any bookseller near you.

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