RL165 - This explains everything

This week, Merlin and John talk about

  • Comic books (Comics)
  • Going to the doctor a lot (Aging)
  • The Star Trek Transporter fixing you up (Aging)
  • 2015-August: John's vintage glasses behind the couch cushions (Currents)
  • The aftermath after John losing the primary election (Run for office)

The problem: "It was worse than fighting boar”, referring to John’s experiences during his campaign where he had days that were in the run for ”worst day” of his life.

The show title refers to John going to the doctors and wanting a real diagnosis besides starting to meditate, which always explains everything.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

John lost the primary election (RL165)

John did not survive the primary election. He got between 17% and 20% of the vote. Everybody who helped, participated in and supported his campaign and all of his voters have been wonderful, vocal, supportive and great! The day after he lost the primary he heard from a lot of other people who had never communicated with him before that he had a great run, made a good campaign, stayed true to himself, started a new conversation and forced people to talk about those other things. He should be really proud and they can’t wait for John to run again. He is getting that from friends and supporters as well. "Go get them, tiger! Get them the next time!" John is processing that energy from other people and holding that up against his first-hand experience of what it was like and what he wants and how best to serve.

Staying candid during a political campaign (RL165)

People chastised John for the casual way that he conceited the election. One of his foundational ideas was to remain candid and to practice his normal candor in this realm where candor is the rarest of all elements. Could you run for office and continue to speak honestly about yourself, your experience and your perceptions? If so, why does no one do it? Why is it so hard? Our first impression of candidates and politicians is that they are not being honest. One reason is that there isn’t really that much difference between people and their goals, even including the radical lunatics who believe that the earth is only 2000 years old and who don’t think that women should have a right to chose. There are a lot of political golfs between those people and Bernie Sanders, but Bernie Sanders wants Kraft Mac&Cheese dinner and Rick Santorum wants Kraft Mac&Cheese dinner. Everybody eats Kraft dinner (they changed their name to KD in the US recently)! Human beings share more commonality than they have differences, but politics is the realm of difference. You want to exaggerate the small differences between one another in order to make clear delineations between candidates and choices. What you see in the Republican race and the Democratic race are people who share 98% of their belief system making a huge deal out of the 2% where they are different.

Exploiting minor differences is ultimately something that John doesn’t see any purpose in. Minor differences are things he always tries to heal, to rectify or even to celebrate. In politics you say that Pantone color 244 is the greatest color while your opponent thinks that Pantone color 245, a clearly evil color, is a good color. What a terrible way to think and do business! There are people everywhere who just love that kind of disagreement. It is like having an argument with your pals not if The Beatles were a good band, but which album you like the best that week. It is a fun conversation to have, but you are also not constrained in how you decide to argue and there aren’t any consequences if somebody argues better than you. You get to be who you want to be when you are arguing with your pals. One of the things that makes John who he is is his muscular way of having those kinds of discussions with people, but that is not conducive to succeeding in his campaign. Merlin is watching John having to say something that already feels like poison in his mouth and having to phrase it in a certain poisonous dumbed down way which doesn’t get the truth and the completeness of it out, in order not to become something that can be used against him later.

Even when talking to Merlin John felt throughout the entire race that he needed to keep little areas of his actual thinking sequestered. Talking about how he was feeling and thinking with complete candor immediately put him at a disadvantage. Everyone in politics talks about the race as a really long marathon and saying what he was thinking right now and being too candid about his experiences right now would jeopardize John in the future. When you speak candidly about yourself, you are offering opportunities for other people to use your words to create difference and distance. John saw it in practice, he saw the potential danger of it, and there is so much he wants to digest by talking to Merlin about it, but he has some big decisions to make. John believes that his candor about his life is more important to him than almost anything. It protects him from blackmail, it is the process he uses to understand the world and understanding the world is more important to him than his ambition.

John didn't enjoy the process of running for office (RL165)

John never wants to let people down and the hardest part of his life has been that he always felt like he is always letting people down. Not wanting to let anybody down propels him along the road. Running for office was really distasteful and he did not enjoy it. It may very well be like childbirth where you find it awful in the immediate aftermath, but nine months later you have forgotten about it and want to have another kid when the hormonal rush papers over the pain. The entire experience was personally very difficult for John, while other candidates and his mentors seem to be of a personality type who doesn’t find it that difficult. There are people who are made to run the 4-minute mile. They love to run, they train and they work hard, but they also have a physiology. Then there are other people who could train just as hard, but will still never be a great runner, because that was not what they were built to do. They will never dunk a basketball. There are people who thrive in the political environment that we have decided is how we put people forth and how we choose our officers. Those people never felt so alive than during a campaign. Their eyes are shining, their coats are glistening, and they love the process, the attention and the tussle of it. John understands why people would think he would be good at it or why he would enjoy it, but being under that kind of purposeless scrutiny is pure torture for him.

There are many nuances to John’s personal experience of running for office and it is challenging for him to talk about it with the candor he wants to. He wants to be of service and he wants to use his knowledge for the greater good. Running for office seemed like an opportunity to do that but he doesn't know if he still feels that way. He could potentially harm his future opportunities if he is not circumspect about how he talks about how this went. He had entered this new community of people with very different expectations and a very different language. John said early on that he had had harder six months than this, but there was a certain moment in the run-up to the primary where he could no longer say that he had had a worse month like this. There were multiple days in the running for ”worst day”, although John had previously been to jail, he had shivered in the cold while he was hungry, tired and alone, he had been bitten by dogs and he had fought a wild boar.

There were some days where he would talk to six or seven different executive boards of various unions and activist organizations and it was worse than fighting boar. Tons of people had told him with big cheshire grins that you will always lose your first campaign. To think that this campaign was the sporting one, just to figure it out, and the next one is going to be the real time, or the time after that, requires either an emotional temperament that you either have or don't have. Sitting in the basement of a community center arguing with your opponent about insignificant differences of your opinion and afterwards still have the energy to race across town to stand in front of a supermarket and hand out buttons to people who are not interested in you. Doing all of that with relish is one type, while John is the type who looks at maps in a book about Napoleon and thinks about what that must have meant to the people who were selling grain. It feels like you would want that kind of person to run for office, but maybe that aperture is just too small or the pressure in the hose is too great.

Be careful what you put on record (RL165)

The week of losing his first election is such a fraught moment, but he also knows that in six months he might be saying that it wasn’t that hard and that it was actually great. Because we are living in a world where everything Merlin and John say is recorded and broadcasted, this will all be something he will have to recon within a year. When he would run again somebody would call him out on it like ”which is it, flip-flopper?” and John doesn’t want to live in a world where he is scrutinized in that way, not because he is afraid to be scrutinized, but because his fundamental premise is that he can say that the week after he lost the primary and he can change his mind in a year and that is normal and great. It is simple to say that you shouldn't tear yourself up over this and you should just stay who you are, but you are still getting psyched out by always having to think about how what you say is going to be processed, presented, repackaged and productized by other people. Merlin did never have any doubt that John would be great at that job, but the problem is rather how he would get that job. In some ways it is not a natural fit to how John works and lives. It is not that somebody is going to get dirt on him, but he will end up having to fight with both hands tied behind his back. He can’t do what he is best at, which is being expressive about what he feels as a person in the world.

Obviously his opponents hadn't dedicated interns to listening to the podcast, both John and Merlin were worried about what things from Roderick on the Line could come out into the campaign, like that John had endorsed Stalin or that he had pillows made of owls. In the end, there was only one thing that really came out from the podcast: There had been a few episodes where John really rankled people and the biggest one was the one where John was talking about gender pay equity. He was talking about it pretty flippantly, describing a conversation he had with a middle-class white lady about her pay. It was an episode that immediately generated a big response and made a lot of people mad. John got really schooled by their listeners at the time. A lot of people agreed to disagree, because they liked the tenor of their conversation. This was an example of a thing where John crossed a line and talked about gender pay equity, a thing that a lot of people were educated on and passionate about. John was talking about it in a tone of voice that was full of privilege and lack of complete understanding. They got a lot of flack for it at the time and while John deserved that response, he had been surprised that they had lost people in that. Even after 100+ episodes of the show with both of their minds on display, in a situation like that where he was just straight up wrong and he didn’t understand the issue and he was speaking from a place of ignorance in a voice of confidence, people couldn’t forgive it, because John had touched on a nerve and it was a bridge too far. It was a litmus test whether or not John was a good person.

The education he got in that week from thoughtful people and friends writing him that he was wrong and explaining why was something that John took to heart and he understood that he was wrong, but there hadn’t been an opportunity in a later episode to say that he had changed his tune. Many people didn’t even reach out to him to tell him where he was wrong, but they just went on the Internet to say that John Roderick is a bad person. One of their reviews on iTunes is still there, saying that he used to like the program, but cannot listen to it anymore because John Roderick denies that women have a hard time in life. What are you talking about? Fuck you! John was wrong and the ultimate gift we can give one another is the willingness to give anyone the opportunity to learn and change their minds. It is kind of the modern disease to have someone fail a test, deny them their place at the table and say that we can’t abide them anymore because they had been wrong one time.

Somebody who had listened to the episode about gender pay equity and who was mad or disappointed had excerpted that conversation where John was talking to his middle-class white female friend and said ”Do you make 75 cents on the dollar at your job or does anybody you know make 75 cents on the dollar at their jobs?” For that moment John wasn’t questioning that there are women in the world who were making significantly less than their male counterparts. It was a white privilege moment, he was having a hard time understanding how it worked and he just didn’t see it. Afterwards he learned and he had even made gender-pay-equity an issue in his campaign and had talked about it as often as he could. He was one of the few people running for office who had talked about it a lot, in part because of that experience and getting the education from people who were genuinely trying to educate him.

All of a sudden that excerpt appeared on Facebook and it got passed around, not by Tim Burgess, his conservative arch enemy who was out to destroy John’s credibility with the left, but it got passed around by the left. Ultimately John found out that it had been excerpted and initially made available by somebody whom he would consider a friend. It was shared most widely and commented on most virulently by leftists, the people John would imagine were his core constituency. There was not any attempt or offer of opportunity to explain. He couldn’t even say that it was taking out of context. Had he been a better politician he could have said that he was talking about white privilege and it was all ironic, but it wasn’t. They were right to find that excerpt and if John hadn’t learned, it would have been right to call attention to it and say that this guy is misrepresenting himself and this is what he really thinks. In the context of his podcast, John had been talking about Stalin and he had often even been wrong about the Beatles. Being wrong about gender pay equity was one of 1000 times he had been wrong on this program, but in the context of running for office he was wrong about a thing that is often used in politics to determine if someone is on the right side or not, and whether somebody is secretly on the wrong side.

This incident was a huge learning experience for him. Almost everybody is too cynical to believe what is said on the campaign trail, even political novices presume that candidates are always lying. The real information is hiding in their voting record, their personal record and their paper trail. That is why we personalize campaigns so much. Everybody stands up and says that they want to make the world a better place and they want a chicken in every pot, but then the reporter asks about this one time you cheated on your taxes or this one time you had an undocumented worker or this one time on a podcast where you said that you weren’t in favor of gender pay equity. The premise is to expose a person for who they really are. A lot of times a politician is destroyed by the revelation that their housekeeper is an undocumented worker. Sometimes they are lucky! The revelation that George Bush was a draft dodger and got a plumb job in the Air Force Reserve and then didn’t even fulfill his commitment didn’t destroy his political career. This incident was not about John wearing a lamp shade on some photo from the 1980:s or him talking about Hitler, but this is him talking about a real political issue that is on the table right now and something we should all be talking about. It is a very visible example of how our goal of equity in our culture is unmet and it is something we can really do stuff about in Seattle right now. The city of Seattle can set and example and can require companies doing business here to pay their workers equally. It is an actual political difference between people and there was John on tape getting it wrong.

He could have stayed up 10 days in a row and could have gone to every Facebook page it had been sent around to, he could have joined the conversation to defend himself and could have told people that he had already learned about it long before he even thought about running for office. If he were a better politician, he might have actually done that. When John declared that he was running, the first thing everybody was worried about was that John had punched a guy in the nose and how that was going to play. John was going to deal with that in case it would have come up, but no one running those initial questions by him talked about that gender pay equity stuff he was wrong about. The Punk Rock article came back to haunt John over and over again, because there are just people who are never going to let that rest. Those are instances of his public wrongness that John is generally happy to embrace.

Going forward after his first campaign (RL165)

John doesn’t know how to proceed. What he shouldn’t do is to have too many events like this where he narrates his process out loud. He doesn’t have to decide anything right now as he is laying the groundwork on how his life is going to look like going forward. He wouldn’t have thought that personal integrity is one kind of thing: You either have it or you don’t! A lot of people in the race, including people John was running against, indicated that they would say and do anything to get elected. One of his opponents was very good at tight, provocative statements that would leave a turd on your lawn and then he would take you aside behind the curtain at the next event and tell you that they was sorry, but they have to go after him and it is all in the game. It is all very skeezy and John can’t live that way, but sitting here right now you can just hear the hesitancy and reluctance in his voice to become clean. It feels like an infection, like a kind of meningitis and he has to process what he wants and what he wants to do next, a thing that he is not super-talented at either. He doesn’t usually talk about how the next five years of his life will look like.

When John started the campaign he had the idea that they are going to reform the political process and that one candidate running from the outside the system could be an agent of reform who swept all the cobwebs out of the corners. They would make the political process new, exciting and honest. All they had to do was run an honest campaign and that honesty would be like a teleportation machine that reorganizes the atoms and took the disease out. What he discovered was that the process of running for office involves so many organizations who ultimately have no interest in reform. Not just the Chamber of Commerce and not the Socialist party. John was endorsed by neither the Seattle Times nor The Stranger, neither the Chamber of Commerce nor the Socialists, he was endorsed by neither the business community nor the unions. We think about those groups as oppositional: The unions and the bosses. The left paper and the right paper. The communist party and the conservative democrats, but none of those groups chose him. They all chose one or the other guy.

The aftermath (RL165)

The reason John heard over and over again was that predictability is the currency of the realm and nobody wants a candidate who isn’t predictable and nobody wants a candidate where they don’t know exactly how he is going to vote on every issue. They would rather have a guy that they know is going to vote against them than somebody they can’t predict. So ultimately, being honest and being true and being yourself? The commonality of all those political agents is that none of them want anything new. Their power rests on their ability to work within this broken and anachronistic system. The union process of picking a candidate and the Chamber of Commerce process of picking a candidate, those two groups who think of themselves as polar opposites and having completely different goals in mind, functioned almost exactly the same from John’s perspective. He sat down in front of them and answered their questions, but ultimately they felt that, not that John was not intelligent or capable or interesting or compelling, but that he was not predictable.

Going into the primary election he had the support of no-one except for the 20.000 people who have voted for him. As they have talked before, the Long Winters sold 20.000 records, there are 20.000 people listening to the podcast and 20.000 people voted for him. It is the 20.000-person problem. There is no single way to reform that process. If you were a renegade candidate with a million dollars like Ross Perot you wouldn't have to deal with any of that political machine, but even if you bought every TV advertisement on Seattle TV and just went right to the voters, that political machine, the newspapers, the democrats, could still defeat you. John didn’t have enough fame and name-recognition to overcome that.

Using wrong criteria for selecting candidates (RL165)

Merlin can’t get his mind around: In most cases when people want to hire somebody, they are looking for somebody who can get along with the team and who can accept the system that is in place. Most managers don’t want to hire somebody who wants to come in and revolutionize the company, especially if they had never worked there before. John is facing a little bit of an Anna Karenina problem where it is one thing to say that he is going to fix the system, but each part of that system would need to be changed in such a radically different way that is at odds with how they have always done it. The system is how it is because that is how it operates. John’s job is to be electable, otherwise he won’t get the job. You really can’t get beyond that!

The way that a lot of people chose who should be on the Seattle City Council is to ask for the candidate's management experience. That is true in business, too, but ultimately what John was saying throughout the campaign is that it is wrong to chose managers for this job. Being on the Seattle City Council is not a management job! You are not managing anybody, but you are sitting on a panel of 9 thoughtful people trying to make sense of the law. If you put managers there over and over, what you are going to get is people who are trying to manage the other City Council members, the details, their reputations and the press. It is the Lieutenant Colonel problem all over again! Being on the city council is a completely different kind of job, it is being on a panel! We can see this in business, too, where so often the hiring process is not about who is going to get along with the team, but rather who got the management experience to handle this tough job. All those Google questions, like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, make the interviewer feel smart. They are all just Kobayashi Maru: They seem like a test of leadership, but they are really a test of character. They just want to see how you respond. Often, the ability to answer Kobayashi Maru question is not really salient to being a good member of a team of councillors. Do you really want a bunch of people who have trained to answer these character questions?

Ultimately John would love if Kobayashi Maru was the way they would elect people to City Council, but so much of the process of interviewing for that job is showing that you have a detailed knowledge of the jobs of the people who would be executing the job and you don’t really need to be a very good city council person. In fact, it makes it difficult to be a good city council person if you are coming from a place like: I used to implement this policy and now I want to make this policy. Those are two radically different skills, but knowing how to implement it is the only way we have to judge, because otherwise we would need to use our imaginations. It is like the SAT, a test we understand and there seems to be some relationship between how well people do on the SAT and how well they do in college. We know it is a crap shoot, but it is our best crap shoot. The last thing the SAT wants is to start measuring people’s imagination. Harvard wants you to be able to write a good essay question, and if you really are a genius and are going to win the Fields Medal, they are going to try to get ahold of you and cultivate you, but processes need to be systematized and you can’t have a process that rates imagination. There are lots of jobs requiring imagination and we just hope that we find somebody who jumps through these hoops and also has imagination. If they don’t, then at least they jumped through the hoops and we can cover our butts. The last thing we want is to hire somebody with imagination and then discover that they shit themselves and we have to explain why we chose them.

Going forward, John needs to figure out what he wants to do with his life and how he can help and how he can be most useful. Is he most useful as an elected official? John doesn’t know how to make it through that process while still retaining what he thinks is most useful about himself, and that is the Kobayashi Maru of this! John is very open to the idea that this might not be the thing for him! He doesn’t know what he will feel 9 months from now and he doesn’t want 30 hours of Merlin and him saying that there is a certain type of person that could ever get elected to public office. There is a reason we don’t trust them once they are elected, but the job of elected official is like Pagliacchi and what we really should be doing is figuring out where power really lies and we should try to affect the activation of that power closer to the source.

The ideas of participatory democracy and representative democracy are also thought technologies. We elect people and send them up to these bodies to perform these tasks. Is that the best way to get things done? Has it always been just a performance that squanders resources and distracts people from where things are really happening? Can laws be made more efficiently and better through a different practice? It is hard to divorce our democratic institutions from our methodology and from our desire to be democratic. The desire to be democratic is still great! We need to chase it and we need to perfect what it means to be democratic rather than autocratic or oligarchic! But this method where we put people into a process so we can elect them and send them up to a legislative body where they bicker with each other and pass laws by majority: Is that necessary? Is that democratic? Or is that a holdover from a time where we didn’t have instantaneous communication and a time when we didn’t trust everyone to vote? Are we still practicing a form of democracy that was best suited for a time when news travelled by horse carts and we all gathered in the town hall to have our voices heard?

John honestly doesn’t know and thinks that we probably waste energy, intellectual capital and time running our government the way we do, but he definitely doesn’t want to fall into some kind of Silicon Valley trap, searching for a disruptive way of doing government. What about Government by Facebook? That sounds just awful! John had been thinking about that his whole life: How do you have actual direct democracy without succumbing to rule by mob? Do our current systems protect us? Does all of this process protect us against our worst natures? Speaking as someone who just lost his first election, it is very hard to separate the personal from the political right now.

Of course both of his opponents have reached out to John and have asked for his endorsement and have expressed the desire to work with him and he wrote them both back and said that he will sail his boat up the Nile for a while and doesn’t want to talk to either of them or talk to them at all. The idea that one of them is going to champion the arts on John’s behalf? No, thanks! The arts will be just fine without their Johnny-come-lately advocacy. People will remember John as the arts candidate or something, which is fine, but that is the short-hand. You end up being defined by one or two words when you run for office this way. That’s the union candidate or that’s the arts candidate or that’s the housing candidate. That is the game! You know that this is going to happen. You win if you get that to be the one that you wanted. ”Tough on crime!” or whatever. ”Against the tunnel!” and you can’t be too many of those, like "Against the tunnel and for the airport" Pick a thing! Are you for the airport or against the tunnel. That’s well-rounded. Merlin is still proud of John.

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