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Interview With Bill McKibben and Christiana Figueres; Interview With David Dimbleby. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired December 22, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
It's been an extraordinary year that's changed the world as we know it, from a global pandemic that's shifted the way we live, work and interact
with each other, to the most consequential U.S. election in modern history, to a moral reckoning with racism around the world.
So, this holiday season, we're bringing you some of our favorite interviews from this year on all of this and more.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): With the U.S. now out of the landmark global climate accords, where are we in the race against climate change? I speak
to Christiana Figueres, architect of that historic Paris deal, and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who has been ringing the alarm bells for
TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I said that, so far as Britain is concerned, we would be with America. Those two things were clear. It was
monumental, and we would deal with it together.
AMANPOUR: That extra special relationship that reshaped the post- 9/11 world, for better and for worse. British broadcasting legend David Dimbleby
offers a new lens on Bush, Blair and the Iraq War.
JOSEPH HENRICH, AUTHOR, "THE WEIRDEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD": So, WEIRD is an acronym. It stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and
AMANPOUR: Psychologist Joseph Henrich tells our Walter Isaacson what makes us weird.
And, finally, poetry for our COVID times with Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Climate is the existential issue of our time, determining the survival of our species and, of course, the spread of new pandemic. This year, the
United States officially withdraws from the historic Paris accords, which were signed in 2015, thanks to a 2016 campaign promise by Donald Trump; 195
countries had come together after years of fraught negotiations with a road map to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.
This year alone, though, a loss of biodiversity makes a pandemic like COVID much more likely, as well as the roaring heat and massive climate swings.
California is enduring historic wildfires that have burned another four million acres.
A similar fate has befallen Australia, Siberia, and the Amazon rain forest. 2020 has also been a record year for hurricanes in the United States, and
scientists say climate change makes them more frequent.
But this year has also seen massive climate activism. Street protests around the world have led to votes cast in key elections around the world.
I'm joined now by Christiana Figueres, the architect of that 2015 Paris agreement. She has dedicated her life to climate policy. And I'm joined by
the leading environmental journalist Bill McKibben, a Cassandra who sounded the alarm bells on this climate crisis more than 20 years ago.
Welcome to the program.
So, as I said, no matter what happens, there is a technicality that the United States is out of the Paris climate accords. So, Christiana, since
you were one of the architects for the U.N. on this, what does that mean, if the U.S. stays out of it, or if the U.S., under a different
administration, seeks to get back into it? What are the immediate repercussions?
CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, FORMER EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, UNITED NATIONS FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Well, I don't think this has any immediate
Over time, if the United States stays out of the Paris agreement, but, more importantly, if the U.S. administration would continue to roll back
standards and policies that incentivize the move toward cleaner energies and cleaner technologies, the United States industry would actually lose
its competitiveness, because we already know that the European Union, China, Korea, Japan, they are all moving forward into the decarbonized
economy, not because they want to save the world, but because they know that it's competitive for their economy.
So, sadly, the United States would continue to lose its standing in world economy.
AMANPOUR: I want to play just a tiny sound bite. It was part of an interview that we did during the signing, right after it was signed. And
it's an anniversary coming up right now. But this is five years ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FIGUERES: When the world is faced with a truly global challenge, the community of nations can and has come together to address the challenge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you both -- first you, Christiana, because that is you -- do you believe that the community of nations has come
together? Have those key benchmarks of the 2015 accords actually been met?
FIGUERES: Well, yes and no, in the sense that the real economy is continuing to decarbonize because of the geopolitical mass of countries
that are continuing to have their climate change-responsible policies, but especially because of corporations that are increasingly understanding that
they have to move away from the risk of climate change impact, both the physical risk, as well as the risk to the value of their companies, as well
as the financial sector that is increasingly moving, shifting capital from high-carbon assets to lower-carbon assets.
We have trillions of dollars, $150 trillion of capital demanding disclosure of climate change risk from corporations. We have an alliance of asset
owners that is up to now $5 trillion, 30 of the largest institutional investors that have committed to move their asset portfolio over to net
zero by 2050, again, because they understand that it is good for their financial performance.
Nobody's talking here about some esoteric saving of the planet, saving of the world. It is because the economics are with decarbonization.
AMANPOUR: Bill, let me turn to you, because it looks like China and I think South Korea have made pledges to be carbon-neutral by 2060, I think.
Basically, they have beaten the United States in that pledge, to that pledge. Do you -- are you as sanguine about what's happening and about the
economic incentive that could bring other countries to meet their targets, but also bring the United States back into compliance?
BILL MCKIBBEN, ENVIRONMENTALIST: Well, Christiana, as usual, is absolutely right about where all this is headed. There's no question that we're moving
towards a decarbonized world.
The only question, of course, is how fast. And if we go at the rate that we're going now, then we will never catch up with chemistry and physics. I
mean, the temperature of the planet set a new record in August in California. The temperature reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit. That's at the
limit of human ability to survive.
But the computer modeling makes clear that's where we're headed across large swathes of the planet, unless we move with great, great speed. So,
the hope, always of the Paris accords was that it would goose this response, it would make us move faster than we otherwise would. And we need
to keep doing that.
We need to keep pressing in Washington, say, but also in Wall Street, and at least as much. That's why it's been so good to see activism focusing not
just on politics, but on finance. The fossil fuel divestment movement, where a lot of this began, is now at about $15 trillion in portfolios and
endowments that have divested from fossil fuel.
In the course of the year, both the queen and the pope have announced plans to divest, which leaves I don't know who, Beyonce maybe, as the only
royalty we still need to get on board.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about biodiversity as well, because this is a massive part of it. A new intergovernmental report basically linked the
idea of new pandemics, COVID-like or even worse, to this loss of biodiversity, loss of our natural world, and that they could become a much
more regular and more virulent feature.
Bill, what do you think about that?
MCKIBBEN: I think that, for a very long time, serious people somehow managed to regard the planet, the physical world, as a subset of the
We spent a lot more time worrying about -- we always talked about the health of the economy. Was the economy on the mend? Had the economy caught
a cold? On and on and on. The economy is important, but it exists inside this larger physical planet. And, this year, between COVID, between the
hurricanes, between the wildfires, is a pretty good reminder that we better focus on the health of those underlying physical systems before all else.
AMANPOUR: I just want to go back to the financial aspect of this, because that's going to be one of the solutions. And I think you both have some
faith that the logic of global economics is going to lead to that. I spoke to Brian Deese, who's the head of sustainable investing at BlackRock. I
spoke to him earlier this year before the pandemic about why they were divesting, why they were looking into divesting.
Listen to what he told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN DEESE, GLOBAL HEAD OF SUSTAINABLE INVESTING, BLACKROCK: We spend a lot of time asking the question not necessarily, are you going to exit the
entire oil and gas industry or all utilities globally, but, instead, within those sectors, which are the companies that are the most prepared, that are
investing the most in the clean technologies of the future, and which of those companies are less prepared?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, I guess I want both of you to tell me, what is it going to take? And, as you know, it's been an issue in the 2020 election, fossil
fuels or transitioning from fossil fuels.
What is it going to take to really make this a game-changing tipping point move from all those who subsidize and invest in fossil fuels, Christiana?
FIGUERES: Well you have large banks like HSBC, Barclays, Morgan Stanley, that have already come out, in fact, even just this year, saying that they
have finally reached the conclusion that it is way too risky to stay invested in those assets and that they're moving over. And, as I said,
asset -- those are the banks, large banks. And more banks will join. Asset owners are also already moving.
This is actually -- what we have to understand Christiane is that this is a transition. And there is no one that is already in the perfect space. There
is actually increasingly fewer people who are in the terrible space, because most of these actors are in the transition space, in which you see
evidence of both the past that we're leaving, as well as the future that we're moving toward.
So, if you want to say, well, are we doing well or not, well, you can find evidence of both, depending on what color glasses you put on. The important
thing is that, A, we are transitioning, and, B, how do we accelerate that transition? Now, you do have some very interesting cases in which, for
example, NextEra -- that is a Florida-based renewable energy company and utility -- has already gone above the market value of ExxonMobil.
Why? Because renewable energies are definitely much more competitive in any -- even in the United States, but also in many other jurisdictions. So, you
see that the economic imperative is moving in the right direction, again, not at the speed that we need.
AMANPOUR: The legendary -- really, the person has brought us more about our natural habitat than any other human being really is our David
And he has done endless phenomenal programming to show us our natural world. His latest is called "My Witness Statement: A Life On Our Planet."
I mean, he says a witness statement is about a crime, a crime that I have seen human beings commit, and he recounts them, and then he has solutions.
I want to play a little clip from the last third of his program, which comes up with some solutions, including about farming and about fishing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH, NATURALIST: Estimates suggest that no-fish zones over a third of our coastal seas would be sufficient to provide us with all
the fish we will ever need.
In international waters, the U.N. is attempting to create the biggest no -- fish zone of all. In one act, this would transform the open ocean from a
place exhausted by subsidized fishing fleets to a wilderness that will help us all in our efforts to combat climate change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Let me turn to you first, Bill. I mean, everybody wants solutions, not just the economic, as we have decided to discuss, but also
how do you rebalance, like David Attenborough said, the natural world?
What do you think of -- is the likelihood of that kind of sensible advice being taken?
MCKIBBEN: I think the likelihood of sensible advice being taken, of science being followed is in direct proportion to how many people make that
demand. Christiana was just right in saying that we need to accelerate this financial transition.
I began 2020, long ago, it seems, in January, getting arrested with some colleagues in the lobby of the Chase -- J.P. Morgan Chase Bank nearest the
nation's Capitol. We did it to launch this campaign to demand that they stop handing over hundreds of billions of dollars to the fossil fuel
A few weeks ago, after all that pressure, they said that their bank would be Paris-compliant going forward. I don't think we know what that means,
and I wouldn't be surprised if we have to go back to jail before we completely find out. But it's a very good reminder that it doesn't -- it's
really important to have good policies and to think about them and to make beautiful documentaries about them.
And, in the end, this is about power and about the ability to try and make these institutions move at a speed that matches the demand that the
physical world is putting on it.
AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you to comment on whether you have heard -- we all talk about protecting the Amazon forest, because it pulls down the
carbon dioxide, because it breathes our oxygen for us.
Some are saying that keeping whales and repopulating the ocean with whales has an even bigger impact on this precise issue. Like, for instance, they
pull down around 33 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over their long lifetimes. That's a huge amount compared to what trees do. What do you
think to that, because there's still parts that actually hunt whales?
FIGUERES: Well, obviously, we are all whale enthusiasts. And we would want to protect them. Whales actually have come back in their population since
whaling was made illegal.
But I think, as beautiful as those animals are. It is unfair to put the entire weight of transition and transformation on their shoulders. That is
not the case. We have to see this as an integrated, systemic change. We have to move out, Christiane, from understand -- from looking at addressing
climate change as being only a burden and only a responsibility. It is a responsibility, but it's not just a responsibility.
It is also a golden opportunity that is being forced upon us because we can't say no. It's being forced on us to look at all of these systems, the
energy system, the transport system, the fishing system, the agricultural system, look at them all, as they were in the 21st century. Over -- and in
the entire 20th century.
Over decades, they have become arcane, inefficient, and polluting. We have to be able to transform them into the modern, efficient, healthy systems
that we need, all of them, energy, transport, agriculture, and fishing.
And, yes, he is absolutely right, as usual, Sir David, in saying that the U.N. is trying to come to an agreement to protect 30 percent of the Earth's
surface, both soil and waters, for healthy ecosystems. But that is part of the solution. We have to understand that this has to be an integrated
solution of all of the systems that are life-sustaining.
We have to stop thinking about this in silos and understand this is a systemic transformation that has been forced upon us at the beginning of
this decade, which is the critical decade, during which we have to be at one-half global emissions by 2030. And then we will open the door to a
world that is much better than the world that we have now.
It is definitely the way to go, not just to avoid the dystopian world, but actually to lay the groundwork for a world that is healthier, much more
stable, much more just, much more inclusive, because we can do it. We can do it over the next 10 years, minus 10 months.
AMANPOUR: Bill McKibben, last word to you. Are you optimistic about that 10 years, minus 10 months, deadline? Can we do it by 2030?
MCKIBBEN: Well, we're going to find out.
Christiana is absolutely right. This is the decade that counts. We wasted three decades, largely thanks to the fossil fuel industry. So we have got
to cram the work of 40 years into 10. The scientists and engineers have given us the technology.
Now, we have to figure out if we have the will to put it to work. And that involves building movements. So, watching young people out in the streets
is a good sign. Let's get behind them.
AMANPOUR: On that note, Bill McKibben, Christiana Figueres, thank you so much for joining us.
FIGUERES: Thank you.
MCKIBBEN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, the 21st century has been defined by 9/11, terrorism and war, the financial crises, pandemics, and even an alarming loss of trust in
All are somehow linked. And BBC legend David Dimbleby has a new podcast out, following the success of his last one on the rise of Rupert Murdoch.
This time, Dimbleby focuses on the crucial period between 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, also on the close relationship between Tony Blair and
President George W. Bush.
"The Fault Line" includes interviews with some of the most important players, including Donald Rumsfeld, communications guru Alastair Campbell,
and Blair himself.
And David Dimbleby is joining me now.
Welcome to the program. I just want to ask you...
DAVID DIMBLEBY, HOST, "THE FAULT LINE": Hi.
AMANPOUR: ... because your last one was so successful about Murdoch. In a way, all of this is linked, given the push that Murdoch, through his media,
put on to the Iraq War.
What was the driving force for you to reexamine this very much examined topic?
DIMBLEBY: I think it was because I was puzzled by the way that Blair kept supporting George W. right through, despite immense political pressure in
Britain from his own political party, and what it was that drove this man to stick with Bush and, therefore, make it a bit easier for Bush and the
United States to go to war in Iraq, because he had a close ally with him.
And it's that process. It's the way in which, once you have decided to do something politically -- and Blair is a kind of idealist politically. He
believed in regime change. He believed in getting rid of dictators.
But you couldn't do that under British law. So he gets sucked into this thing that he needs -- he wants to be with Bush. He wants to get rid of
Saddam after 9/11 because Bush does. There's no evidence that al Qaeda and Saddam are connected.
So he gets this idea that it's weapons of mass destruction that the world has got to be preserved from. And gradually, as the weeks unfold, that
evidence becomes flakier and flakier, but he still hangs on to it.
And that's where the issue of trust comes in, because he's telling his public in Britain, he's telling people in the States, Saddam has weapons of
mass destruction. As we know, it turns out that he didn't.
AMANPOUR: Well, we do know that.
But I really want to drill down, actually, on what you have said is one of the casualties. And that is trust in leadership, trust in democracy.
But, first, I want to play a little sound bite which has from your podcast some Blair and some Bush. Let's play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have had a couple of formal visits. More importantly, we have had a nice walk around
Camp David and got to know each other. And as they told me, he's a pretty recharge guy. He put the charm offensive on me. And it worked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that was George W. Bush. And then was a memo that you discovered and others did, sort of the Blair memo on, I'll do whatever you
want me to do, kind of.
Talk to me a little bit about that. Again, it's very well-known, but how does it relate to today?
DIMBLEBY: Well, the first thing about that memo is that nobody wanted him to send it, and he insisted on sending it.
And he says in the podcast, well, it was just explaining I was on his side. But his own foreign secretary was saying, what on earth is he doing? His
ambassadors were saying, why is he sending this memo?
I think what it tells us is, it's to do with the power of a prime minister or a president who, if they set themselves on a particular course, in a
way, sweep aside all objections, because, politically, it's so difficult to back down.
And, therefore, you get hung up on a policy which you may be having doubts about. And all around you there are people saying, this is not right, you
haven't got this right. And yet, because you have set that course, it's very difficult to be deflected from it.
And I think that's what leads to a distrust, which is that it was patently obvious after the Iraq War, as everybody knows, and as we reveal, the
evidence -- the people who said this evidence of weapons of mass destruction is just not true. It's flaky. You can't trust it.
Nevertheless, a political leader keeps having to use anything to bolster their case. They hype up the evidence. They have to keep on, because
getting off a policy is so difficult. But if you don't get off a policy, people don't trust you, because, in the end, they find out your policy was
based on a lie.
AMANPOUR: David, can I ask you about the press' roll? I said that you did the "Sun King" podcast. This was about Rupert Murdoch. Everybody knows how
FOX News and the Murdoch newspapers really did ramp up the march to war and were very, very important as, I guess, a propaganda outlet for the Bush
What are the lessons learned from that, do you think, and particularly in light of what we see? Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia,
is gathering a petition to look into the Murdoch holdings, the Murdoch dealings. Can you reflect on some of the extraordinary power and what it
leads to by, certainly, Murdoch press in this case?
DIMBLEBY: Newspapers have always been dangerous. Newspapers have always done this. I mean, in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was like this. I
think Murdoch's power is very dangerous and very frightening, but the power of other newspapers just as frightening. In Britain, for instance, the
power of "The Daily Mail," "Daily Express," ramping up a story, using those banner headlines.
But, I mean, it happened in the run-up to the war with Germany in the Second World War, exactly the same thing. There were papers wanting
appeasement and praising it.
I think the power of newspapers is that -- I don't see how you control it. I don't see what you do. I mean, you can do -- the best you can do is to
make sure you have as many varieties of newspapers as possible and preventing newspapers -- one man like Rupert Murdoch getting ahold of a
whole lot of newspapers.
Now, we had laws in Britain to try and prevent that, but they were never used successfully. He got "The Times," "The Sunday Times," "News of the
World," which he then closed, "The Sun," which is the most powerful, popular paper. And there should have been -- the proper -- the trouble is,
once they get a little bit of power, the newspaper barons then are sucked in by politics.
And the politicians suck them in, have them to lunch and tea and dinner, talk to them, ask their opinions. And they think they're -- they think
they're the power. Murdoch thinks he's the power behind the throne.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And I want to ask you this.
I was talking to the American historian Jon Meacham, who also, in a previous life, had been a journalist, about what he sort of defined as a
moral challenge for journalists going forward, saying that we had a moral dilemma as to whether Trump or whoever, demagogues who are known and proven
to have used the media to spout untruths, falsehoods, lies, that we had a responsibility to check the facts before offering unfettered use of our
And he went back to what happened with the McCarthy era and how some newspapers said that they would not cover unchecked McCarthyism. Do you
think that that should be a basis for going forward, no matter who the leader is, just because they're a president of the United States or
wherever, to give them unfettered public access has got to be rethought?
DIMBLEBY: Well, I think that's -- it's the first rule of good journalism, fact-checking.
And we have now -- we have actually got now -- and the BBC has a fact- checking unit, that whatever anybody says in a speech, whatever statistics they use to support an argument, they do a fact-check, where they will say,
well, that isn't quite true, this isn't quite true.
That is absolutely the first job of a journalist, not to report a president, always to remember that a president is elected by a majority or
a prime minister by majority. Therefore, there's something in what they're saying that's important to disentangle and understand and explain to the
readers, without prejudice.
But on -- in terms of false information, in terms of that kind of demagoguery, absolutely, to report it, yes, because it's been said by the
president or the prime minister or whoever it is, the head of state. Yes, report it, but then say, actually, this isn't true. The facts don't bear
This is the other side of the story. Now, of course, yes, I think that's absolutely crucial. But that's -- that doesn't need to be done by law.
That's journalistic ethics. What needs to be done by law is making sure that newspaper proprietors don't have too much power.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about a change coming to Downing Street, the British prime minister, who has hired a new spokesman who is going to give
on-the-record, on-camera briefings. Now, this is completely new for Britain. It's not the traditional way that the prime minister get his
What do you think of going straight to their own media, rather than the way that they have been doing it in the past?
DIMBLEBY: I will wait to see.
I mean, the way they have done in the past in Downing Street is briefings to a small group of journalists who are sworn to secrecy not to say who
said what. The one advantage of having Allegra Stratton doing it as Johnson's press secretary, is at least she is his mouthpiece, she is his
voice. Whether she'd be able to cope with what I hope would be an onslaught of critical questions, as it would be as if it was the prime minister
himself, we wait to see.
It's a funny trend. It's a funny way of dealing with information. It's a slightly narcissistic thing to do, I think, to have your own -- not me, but
my spokesman will go out there, and every day, every day talk about what's going on.
I mean, we have a different system where, every week, the prime minister goes to the House of Commons and answers questions there, in theory. That's
meant to be the way it's done. So, I don't think it's a positive development.
But, I mean, whether it's better than private briefings, I don't know. Everything leaks so much nowadays. I mean, the prime minister can't sort of
blow his nose without it leaking, somebody says. That sounds awful.
AMANPOUR: And, finally...
DIMBLEBY: And without it -- without it being reported.
And, finally, we -- it's been noted that Boris Johnson's administration or his government has been trying to do to the BBC a little bit of what Trump
has been doing to CNN and the other mainstream media, trying to dominate, trying to, in some ways, denigrate as well.
Are you going to potentially run to be chairman of the BBC?
DIMBLEBY: I was so angry when I read that the prime minister had chosen the next chairman of the BBC, somebody who is permanently, always has been,
hostile to the BBC at every turn. I was so angry at that, but I said - I put my name forward as chairman to defend the BBC. I've been -- I've
actually run for the chairmanship twice before you know because I have very strong views about how the BBC should be run.
But that - that is now faded. Then the person they selected to be chairman then said he wasn't going to be chairman and now it's much more open
competition so I think that the -- I think that the person who'll come through won't be somebody who is actually endemically hostile, loves the
BBC. It will be somebody who may have you know views as everybody would about changes but won't actually want to destroy it.
And I get a sense already that maybe they're backing off a bit on the attacks on the BBC because during COVID, BBC has been hugely popular in the
country. People have trusted it in a way they don't trust any other media.
AMANPOUR: And suddenly the government realizes they need a trusted media.
David Dimbleby, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
DIMBLEBY: Thanks Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Now when it comes to the study of human behavior, are we getting the full picture? Our next guest says no. Joseph Henrich is a Harvard
professor of Evolutionary Biology and he says that our understanding of human nature is skewed because the vast majority of people who volunteer to
take part in studies come from the same crop, educated westerns. And what's more, they are actually psychologically quite peculiar.
Henrich spells it out in his new book, "The Weirdest People in the World" and he also tells it to our Walter Isaacson.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNNI HOST: Thank you Christiane. And Professor Joseph Henrich, welcome to the show.
JOSEPH HENRICH, AUTHOR, "THE WEIRDEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD": Oh, thanks. Good to be with you.
ISAACSON: First, let's explain what you mean by WEIRD.
HENRICH: Right so WEIRD is an acronym. It stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized Rich and Democratic. And two colleagues of mine, Ara
Norenzayan and Steve Heine, we coined it back in 2010 when we wanted to refer to the vast body of subjects for participants that psychologists use
to populate their experiments on which much of modern psychology is based. So, it's a psychologically unusual population.
ISAACSON: Most of modern psychology takes people like us, I'll say. Westerners who are educated and literate and make psychological you know
abstractions and judgments about them. Why is that a problem?
HENRICH: Well, it turns out when we began to review the literature, that not only are these WEIRD population psychologically unusual so there's
variation around the world in psychology and they turn out to be at the extreme ends of the distribution on lots of different interesting and
important psychological outcomes.
ISAACSON: Such as what?
HENRICH: Well, so a big one is individualism so how much people focus on themselves and their attributes. It affects things like overconfidence and
self-esteem, inclination to conform to peers, there's variation there on which where people are in the extreme. The role of guilt versus shame,
which is something anthropologists have long known, different across societies but where people tend to be extreme on the guilt end of the
The use of intentionality and moral judgment so how much should you think about other people's internal mental states and intentions when judging
them morally and also things like trusting strangers and cooperation with strangers.
ISAACSON: Are these genetic traits?
HENRICH: No, no, they're very much culturally learned and the book is about all the different ways in which our institutions and other features
of social life shape how we think and the one of the key ideas that comes from my prior work is that we evolved as a cultural species so our minds
adapt to the kind of affordances and constraints created by our institutions so we end up thinking differently because of the kind of
institutions we encounter when we're growing up.
ISAACSON: You say that WEIRD people i.e., western educated people tend to be more individualistic? Explain that.
HENRICH: The idea is that WEIRD people are more focused on themselves and on cultivating their own attributes, on becoming a kind of unique member of
their society and the reason I argue in the book is because in this world, you've got to go out and make your own friends and make your own
relationships, find your own spouse, find your own business partners from this, you know, collection of other people who are playing the same game.
And lots of societies over human history, you've had these dense networks of social relationships so you would rely on family and other kinds of
relational ties to find business partners, trade arranged marriages.
So, the idea is that by having these kinds of kin-based relationships or marriage relationships and looking for people in your social network to
build new kinds of relationships with, you'll end up with a dense network and trust becomes based on having network connections rather than
cultivating a kind of dispositional trust.
So, that's one of the other things about WEIRD people is they think in terms of dispositions. So, so he's either trustworthy or not trustworthy,
as opposed to trustworthy if I'm connected to him through my network.
ISAACSON: Well, isn't it more advantageous to trust people based on evidence rather than based on networks?
HENRICH: Well, it all depends on the structure of your society so in lots of places if you were to just trust strangers, you would, you know, be
taken advantage of and economists have actually done interesting studies, looking at, you know, there's a kind of an optimal amount of trust you
should have on other people based on how trustworthy the people you're likely to encounter are.
And this idea is that a lot of human trust was built by extending these networks but then to create the kind of modern world where we're more
accustomed to this anonymous impersonal interaction, we might move a lot, you've got to rely on this dispositional strategy.
ISAACSON: One of the most famous psychological tests is the marshmallow test which sort of tests patience. In other words, are you willing to defer
gratification by putting off having one marshmallow for the sake of having two or three later on? To what extent is that a difference across cultures?
HENRICH: Yes. So, there's been recently found interesting differences in the willingness of children to wait for that second marshmallow where how
long they wait is a measure of their self-regulation and researchers working in the U.S. and with western populations have shown that that
willingness, that ability to self-regulate predicts staying in school, in savings, in other kinds of things that require deferral of gratification
later in life.
Parallel work done by economists measuring tens of thousands of people in 80 different countries around the world shows that there's tremendous
variation in people's willingness to defer gratification.
ISAACSON: So that's an advantage for us WEIRD, western, educated societies that we've developed that cultural instinct?
HENRICH: Yes. But again, one of the things I point out in the book is that it really depends on your social milieu. So, an economist named Chris
Platen has done experiments where they took some poor men in Liberia and trained them to have - to be able to defer gratification more. So, they put
them into an 8-week training and they showed they were able to increase their ability to defer gratification and then it looked like they were
beginning to save more and do start some of the things that that lead you to but then they lost their savings because they were strict -- you know,
they were - the police took away from some true corrupt tactics or it was stolen from them. So, it actually didn't pay in that environment to save
and defer for the future. So, it all depends on how your institutions work.
A lot of times in kin-based in societies you invest in the future by investing in your relatives and friends. So, if they have someone in their
family gets injured and they need money for medical procedure, you give the money and then, you know, in the future you're insured through your network
of social relations and the goodwill you've built up by giving away. So. it's just a different institutional system.
ISAACSON: To what extent does the Catholic Church have a role in breaking down this notion of familial relationships and marriage within clans?
HENRICH: Yes. So, I made the case in in my book that the Catholic Church played a critical role, that Europe prior to the spread of Christianity
through northern Europe, places like northern France and England, Germany, the Netherlands, places like that, that these were tribal populations that
would've had cousin marriage and polygynous marriage, clans or kindreds, and there's various lines of evidence for this but it seems that the
Catholic Church systematically broke these populations down into monogamous, nuclear families.
So, they began imposing incest taboos which prevented you from marrying first - initially first cousins but then eventually this is stretched out
to 6th cousins by around the year 1000. Polygynous marriages ended. No more sex slaves or concubinage and then things about inheritance were changed.
So, eventually, you got the kind of monogamous nuclear families which are quite unusual in the world today in kind of global, historical perspective
but they're present in Europe before 1500.
ISAACSON: So, when they spring up in Europe around 1500, monogamous nuclear families, how does that change the way we behave?
HENRICH: Well, it means by breaking people down into monogamous nuclear families, it forced Europeans to go out and build new kinds of
institutions. So, I already said this was a gradual process that happened over centuries and it's under way in several parts of Europe by around 1000
and that's when you see the proliferation of voluntary associations.
So, you get things like guilds, universities, charter towns where people are joining together with voluntary strangers to form social safety nets so
one of the main things that these kin-based institutions do throughout -- back into human history is take care of people when they're sick and when
they're old, when you get injured, things like that.
So, people needed to figure out new ways to do that so they began banding together with strangers. There's often religious overtones so the first
guilds were religious, mutual insurance societies. Early charter towns did the same kind of similar thing. But then they have to decide how they're
going to organize themselves and how they're going to make decisions in the town.
And so, they begin to come up with representative governments. And this I really think is encouraged by the fact that they're monogamous nuclear
families so you don't have clans or things like that and you have more individualistic psychology. So, people are moving into the towns as
individuals rather than bringing a large family, and that encourages the emergence of these more formal institutions based on representative
governments and eventually democracy and voting and stuff like that.
So, you really see this take off in Europe. And one of the analyses I look at in the book is the more centuries that a region had under the church,
the more likely they were to come up with representative democracy.
ISAACSON: If I had to come up with the mission statement for us WEIRD people i.e., western, educated enlightenment folks, I would take the second
sentence of the declaration of independence that we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with
certain inalienable rights. Parse that sentence for me.
HENRICH: Well, I think the idea, you know, we can understand a lot about that sentence if we recognize that there was already this pre-existing
psychology that was in the heads of the guys that were coming up with this, the notion that we're individuals and then we have inside of us, these
rights or something, where do these rights come from, the very notion that we're endowing individuals with race which then propel their behavior or
give them political powers, it's something that I think develops slowly and as a consequence of this kind of psychological evolution - evolutionary
process I'm talking about.
It's not evidence so lots of other populations in places in time that it makes sense to endow people with these individual rights from which we
derive all kinds of other privileges and responsibilities as a consequence. This is - this is that dispensationalism I mentioned about how WEIRD people
ISAACSON: Do you think given what's happening to western democracies, the world could use some more or we in the west could use some more non-WEIRD
HENRICH: Yes, one of the cases I make in the book is that a lot of our capacity to innovate, both in terms of building new institutions and
building technologies comes from bringing in ideas from all different societies and kind of creating re-combinations.
So, at the at the end of the book, I need to explain the massive proliferation of innovation, this could say since 1750, so typical starting
date for the industrial revolution. And the case I make is that is because of this kind of broad-based trust, the flow of individuals amongst
different societies and between occupations, connection between higher and lower strata individuals, leading to re-combinations and then spreading
ideas around world.
I mean, I think a lot of the strength of U.S. -- U.S. has been -- come from immigration. So, I recently reviewed the literature on the effects of
immigration on innovation measured as patents. And basically, at every case, every time you turn up immigration, you turn up innovation because
people from other places bring ideas, it recombines with ideas that the locals have and creates new stuff.
ISAACSON: You discuss a lot about in moral judgment, how we, WEIRD people spend a lot of time thinking about intent, intentionality. Why is that an
important cultural distinction?
HENRICH: Well, it's important from the -- from what I think causes it in the sense that if you are in a -- if you're in a dense network where you're
going to pick partners who you have several connections to then what's going to cause them to behave well is the fact that you're -- they're
connected to you. So, if they don't behave well in your business transaction, you know, you have all these people you can tell who know them
and then, you know, it would be bad for them reputationally.
But if you're just -- if you're in this kind of more disconnected social world, you've got to try to figure out what are his intentions, what are
his goals for his internal mental states, what's his disposition or hers and that's going to then effect your judgment about whether you want to go
into business with them or marry them or, you know, do all these different kinds of things you might want to do.
So, you've got to make these more internalized assessments.
ISAACSON: Do you think that that accounts for the relative success that WEIRD cultures have had in terms of economic development, literacy,
HENRICH: Well, yes, I definitely make the case that it's this shift in psychology that led to institutions like the kinds of economic institutions
we have and the kinds of political institutions we have and this -- you know, I think this helps explain innovation in western societies,
industrial revolution, why European militaries were so successful around the world after 1500 which of course has lots of awful and catastrophic
consequences for lots of populations around the world. But you have to explain why they were able to do it. And so, this is a story about why they
were able to do it because this change in family led to a change in psychology which led to the development of kinds of institutions which
didn't arise in other places.
ISAACSON: One of the amusing tasty morsels in your book was a discussion of United Nations diplomats getting traffic tickets. Explain that.
HENRICH: Yes. So, it was research done by two economists, Ted MCallan (ph) and Ray Fishman, and what they did is they got all the unpaid parking
tickets for U.N. diplomats. So, U.N. diplomats, 90 percent of them live within one mile of the U.N. compound in Manhattan. And up until 2002, after
9/11, they had diplomatic immunity. So, they could park anywhere without having to pay the parking tickets.
So, what they did is they just looked at the relationship of the home country corruption and related it to the number of parking tickets that
people had. And not surprisingly the country level corruption predicted the not more parking tickets. So, people -- diplomats from more corrupt
countries had more parking tickets.
What my collaborators Jonathan Schultz and our other collaborators did was we took the intensity of kinship in these different places and we use that
and we can't even explain the number of parking tickets better. So, if you come from a society with tight kinship based on these networks, people
tended to accumulate a lot of these parking tickets. You can look at the whole U.N. delegation or you can look at just a diplomat, same answer.
Places with small monogamous, nuclear families tended not to get very, very many of these parking tickets.
ISAACSON: How come?
HENRICH: Well, the idea is that when you're from these societies that have these small, monogamous nuclear families, you tend to be big on following
these impersonal rules so this kind of invisible institutions that you can see, which is why might comply with something like that even when there's
no penalty, those things become deeply internalized and we can show in simple experiments that people are more willing to follow these impersonal
When you're in a society that's based on relationships, your thought -- you're always thinking about, well, how are these going to affect my
relationships and, you know, who am I trying to help and who am I trying, you know, not to help here. And if the case of -- if it's an impersonal
institution, you don't have any particular loyalty or relationship to these impersonal institutions. So, that doesn't weigh in your decision making as
ISAACSON: One of the lessons from your book and the analyses from your book are applicable to the problems we now face with western democracies in
HENRICH: Well, I think I mean if I'm analyzing the situation that the U.S. is facing right now, I look at the things that might have shaped people's
moral psychology. And so, one of the big things that I push in the book is the importance of residential mobility. So, people need to move around and
not get anchored in these relationships that build up social relationships over a long period of time.
And if you look at the U.S., certain segments of the U.S. population have had a big decline in residential mobility. So, people are staying in the
same places, they're staying in the same social classes and this leads to the morale -- a kind of moral psychology that is in conflict with people
who are moving around, building new relationships all the time, looking for more egalitarian relationships, not concerned with in group loyalty.
So, that I think is an important factor in creating this dividing moral psychology that we see in place like the U.S. today.
ISAACSON: To what extent do you think your research can help as change the way we look at psychology, which I'm having read your book, is so focused
on people coming into the labs of psychologists and getting tested and those people, all tend to be educated people who end up being tested. And
so, we've had a blind spot in our psychology. Do you think that should change?
HENRICH: Yes. And what I've been arguing is that need to have an integrated social science where we have laboratories around the world that
run continuously in diverse community and we study people across their whole lives. And, you know, we can experiments on them but we should also
be interviewing them and keeping track of what they do and how they spend their time and, you know, from childhood all the way to adulthood rather
than just people here on the internet or people who go to colleges or something like that.
ISAACSON: Professor Joseph Henrich, thank you so much for joining us this evening.
HENRICH: Great to be with you.
ISAACSON: Great to be with you.
AMANPOUR: And finally, some emotional relief. We turn to a true trailblazer. Author Bernardine Evaristo became the first black woman to win
the Booker Prize for fiction in 2019. And since then, she's been fighting for racial justice and to make sure the black experience in Britain is
properly represented, read and heard. She's also a poet of course who's latest is a powerful ode penned for our pandemic times. And Bernardine
Evaristo is joining me now from London.
Welcome to the program.
BERNARDINE EVARISTO, AUTHOR, "GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER": Hello. Good to be on the program again.
AMANPOUR: So, I talked about, you know, emotional relief. We really are undergoing political stress, climate stress, pandemic stress. Tell me how
you're feeling about this moment and what led you to write your latest poem, "The Wind."
EVARISTO: Yes, well, I was asked by the BBC to write something that was inspiring and I -- the first thing I thought about was wind actually
because, obviously, like you say, we're all under lots of pressure and I try not to focus on it too much. I try to think about -- I need to say
abreast with the news but I try not to spend too much time listening to it because I don't want to get deeply disheartened. But I do go for walks and
I do do exercise outside. And I love -- absolutely, I have fallen in love with the wind because I find it so invigorating and so refreshing.
And yes. So, when they asked me to write about something that would be uplifting, that was the first thing I thought of. And it's not the kind of
thing I normally write, I have to say because as, you know, I'm a very political writer.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Bernardine, could you read us "The Wind" please?
EVARISTO: I have to remove myself from the circulation of dead air inside my home, away from the rolling news and the despair and fear all around and
venture out into the windy wilds of the concrete streets. Out past the brick and breeze drop buildings into the parks, the riverside walks, the
countryside to enjoy the wind as it rushes energetically towards me. Waves of it stroking my face or lashing at it so that my skin comes alive and I
feel myself to be in the presence of something older and greater than my own preoccupations.
The wind is a freedom fighter that will liberate us from stuffiness and inertia. It will cleanse our minds of the chaos and uncertainty as we walk
or cycle, sail or run or feel the revolutions of the wheels of our wheelchairs. Feeling our body shaped by its synarchic choreography whirling
around us and its tuneless, feral music howling through the bushes and trees. Fading away, as it dissipates up, into the skies. There is a
healing, and a joy, that takes place when I am outside, and open myself up, to the tactile, yet invisible movement of air.
Not resisting, or resenting, the force of it. But, allowing it to refresh, energize, inspire, wherever I find it. Wherever it roams. The wind.
AMANPOUR: That is beautiful and I love way you say to inspire and energize because you've been and many have been through a really rough period. It's
not just this pandemic, it's also the pandemic of racism we've seen and injustice and the number of peoples, all over the world. How is that part
going for you because, you know, you have really put yourself front and center of that struggle, especially in your area, of literature, getting,
you know, black literature, black writing recognized.
EVARISTO: Well, you know, this is something I've been doing for a long time. It's just that I now have a much bigger platform in the last year
since winning a Booker but I have been an activist, and an advocate, for the inclusion of writers of color in British publishing for decades. And I
set up projects to try and make things happen and some of them have been quite successful, especially in the field of poetry.
So, for me, it's not new. But what I find really interesting is that since Black Lives Matter happened in the summer, the publishing industry is
waking up. And, has realized, they need to diversify, really diversify, their workforce beyond tokenism. And, also, just to publish a wider range
of literature, including all kinds of books by writers of color.
So, Black Lives Matter happened, and it was a terrible thing, and the protests were a catalyst for change. And I think what is happening, right
at this moment, is that we are seeing that change, in my field, which is in literature and publishing. We will see if it sustains itself.
AMANPOUR: But you also do have a new Penguin Series about black literature, black writing. Is that something that is on top of everything
you've been doing? How do you think that will work?
EVARISTO: Yes. So, I am so excited by this. My publisher, after won the Booker, said to me, I want you to curate a series of books, and I want you
to bring books back into the circulation that have been out of print. And so, we decided they would be Black British books because often, you know,
they come and go very easily, black British books.
And so, I spent this year, really, looking for books to bring back. And we have now have curated a series called Black British Writing Back, and
that's with Hamish Hamilton part of Penguin Random House. And there's six novels, going back to 1934, to a book by someone called CLR James, which
was a very important political figure and a nonfiction writer in the 20th century from Trinidad and he wrote a novel called "Minty Alley" published
in 1936, and it's going to be republished in February along with five other books by somebody called Nicola Williams, Jacqueline Roy, Judith Bryan,
Mike Phillips and SI Martin.
And they're a mixture of crime fiction, legal thriller, literary fiction, historical fiction. And I am just like so pleased that I can use my
platform to give these books a second hearing and to bring them out into the light, introduce them to new readers.
AMANPOUR: Wonderful. Bernardine Evaristo, thank you so much for joining us.
EVARISTO: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And that's it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media.
Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.