RW179 - The Empathy Gap

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to people getting on board with progressive politics like social nets and healthcare if they feel hurt and the hurt actually extends to them.

JoCo Cruise (RW179)

John is back from the JoCo cruise which went great and it was a positive experience for John and for everybody. People who go on this cruise know what they are about, one of the defining qualities of the sea monkeys is that they are really comfortable saying: ”I am all about the Civil War and Pokémon!” or whatever it is. ”I love music or I am a visual artist or I like games!” They all worked that stuff out a long time before they get on the boat. People are getting introduced to new stuff all the time and it is possible that you can suddenly discover a new thing. It is a rare environment that John grows to appreciate more and more all the time and some of those sea monkeys he has known for nine years now.

Coronavirus pandemic 2020 (RW179)

Working from home

John’s daughter's mother is video conferencing with her work people elsewhere in the house and she is gobbling up bandwidth, a problem they don't normally have there, putting some stresses on the bandwidth. What is crazy about this whole sequester thing is that it has been happening for less than a week and people act like we have been suffering for months or years already.

Dan worked from home pretty much alone for 8-10 years or something like that. He didn’t like the lack of social interaction and he had to take extra steps to do that. He lived in freaking Orlando, there was no quarantine and no social isolation going on, but there was just no-one to talk to and nothing to do in the field that he was in anyway. He had friends and stuff, but there wasn’t a community out there that he could participate in that he cared about at the time. He did that for years and years and years and it was fine.

It is funny right now and it helps bring some levity to the situation that we are all worried about this virus and everything else, so it is fun to joke ”I am working from home!”, bu Dan made the choice to work from home. First he was running him own business and eventually he found full time work were a client basically bought all of his time and he was essentially an employee and then he actually became an employee and was still working from home and then went back to running his own business and then eventually started 5by5 from home in a spare bedroom.

Dan made that choice and people are so thrown off by it because they never wanted to do this and never planned to do it and for a lot of people, especially younger people, that is a big part of their social interaction because they don't have a spouse and a family at home, but the social outlet for a lot of people is what happens at work.

John got back from the cruise on Saturday night and they went immediately into shutdown mode. Today they are recording this show on Thursday. The number of times in the last 10 years where from Saturday to Thursday John didn't ever meet anybody or do anything is basically every other week and this has not been any imposition on them really at all, except that the future fucking potential here, we are not sitting here thinking: ”Oh, we haven't gone to any cocktail parties in the last five days!”, but we are thinking: ”Can we keep doing this for four months?” School is canceled into the end of April now.

Situation in Seattle

Seattle is way ahead of the curve because Washington state is a liberal democracy. The governor and the county executive tried to get way out in front of what recommendations coming down the pike were, although they kept the schools open even longer than John thought they would. The governor didn't want to keep the schools open, he was just holding back from making big sweeping declarations for a little bit.

It serves no purpose for you to be on Twitter eight hours a day, counting every single new case of Corona virus, that is just going to drive you crazy. The thing that just came out on the Independent where they said it could be 18 months before there is a vaccine and anytime you lift the quarantine you are inviting the virus back. Thinking about that: How do you integrate that into your daily plan? How is John going to educate his daughter for 18 months? In a way it is exciting.

providing society with a chance to make significant changes

We are going to see the immediate reduction in pollution, it is basically the greenest thing we could possibly do that everybody stays home and stops fucking driving around and burning coal, but all from a business case standpoint, if all of these people can work from home they should if they wanted to. We have been saying this for decades and why do you have to be in the office at 8:00am on Monday? Some people do, some people want to, but it is not necessary!

It is also really moving the bar on ideas about the social services and the social safety net. If in a situation like this we can come forward with some form of universal basic income and all this attention is directed at our medical insurance industrial complex and reforms are made out of necessity, it is going to be very hard 18 months from now to roll back those reforms and say we are going back to a super inhumane system where we don't care about each other while that last 18 months where we were all pulling together, wasn't that funny?

This could be transformational and that is exciting to think about. A lot of people are getting hurt, not just getting sick, but getting hurt and being hurt, but that is the narrative that we have been talking about really aggressively on the progressive side for the last four years: A lot of people are getting hurt all the time! This has long been the suggestion: People are going to get on board with progressive politics if they feel hurt, if that hurt actually extends to them. It is the empathy gap, trying to make a case for progressivism, trying to make a case for a social service, a social safety net, but also what is being described as socialism.

People have to be able to answer: ”Is this better for me? Is this better than the alternative?” and that is the thing that progressives have forgotten how to do, to not just yell at people and tell them that this is better, but actually appeal to them and say: ”This is better for you! We are not just chastising you and shaming you into this, but this would be better than your current situation!” and making that appeal at a broader level than just: ”Don't you want free health care? Don't you want free college?” It has to be a more inclusive idea of: ”This will make your life better across the board! You will have more options and you will feel more wealthy because there will be services that protect you against fear!”

Maybe this is an opportunity for that case to be made. We are all afraid now, but which is the way out? Corporatism does not seem to be working as well as a feeling of common cause, which should be reassuring to us. You often think about it in terms of: In a war everyone pulls together. The argument for a long time for releasing the evidence in Project Blue Book was that if we really felt like there was an external threat, very quickly there would be a united feeling of global solidarity. If there was really an UFO army posted up outside the atmosphere, we would put aside our differences pretty fast. If it turns out that that is a chicken virus that sets up a situation where we in America are looking at South Korea and going: ”Huh, maybe they had some good ideas in South Korea!”, that is not normally the way we approach every day.

John does his podcast with Ken Jennings (The Omnibus) under the premise that they are going to keep doing the show until the apocalypse, which we know is nigh, and they were talking about it yesterday that this is not the apocalypse. Not only are they continuing to do Omnibus, but this is not what it looks like and this is actually an opportunity stake.

John will have to educate his kid for the next 18 months in his house. Today she asked: ”What is the atmosphere?” - ”You tell me what the atmosphere is!” and she gave him a very good description of the atmosphere: "Why did you ask me when you know the answer?” - ”But I mean, how does it work?” - ”Ah!” It is a fun moment to sit and do work with her that she would normally be doing at school, but that means that John has to spend a lot less time sitting and staring at his phone as she and John are going to go through fourth grade together.

Dan’s attitude towards hygiene finally being the majority

Dan’s office is a personal, private office, so he can go back and forth from the home to the office as often as he wants without encountering any other human beings. Haddie is also completely socially isolating and she is going back and forth to her house and the office and sometimes and the only person, according to her, that she is seeing at all, is Dan and the only people that Dan is seeing is his own family. It is like they are an extended family who meet in a third location with only them in it.

Dan’s kids were on spring break this week anyway and they know they don't have to go back until at the earliest the first week of April, but it hasn't really sunk in. If Dan told his son he is going to be able to hang out and play Switch and Minecraft all the time he wanted, he was fine from now on. Dan has never heard him say since the introduction of the first iPad he had: ”Dad, I'm bored!” His daughter says it to him constantly when she literally has everything that she could ever want, but she is still bored. Dan’s son is playing The Witcher now and is obsessed with that game. There are so many games. He is a gamer. He is the most gamer.

As a germaphobe it just means Dan’s behavior has been normalized and he is now normal. It has confirmed all his suspicions. If everybody walked around saying: ”Potatoes suck!” John would be: ”Yes, welcome to my world!” People are finally on board with the way that Dan has been thinking and feeling and if more people were like him there wouldn't even be the flu, let alone a Coronavirus or the cold at all. He is quite content to be in the majority for the first time in his life on anything.

The JoCo Cruise being healthy

The compulsive hand-washing that happened on the JoCo cruise actually reduced the amount of regular sickness that is transmitted between people by a dramatic amount that this was the lowest amount of sickness in any cruise in recent memory. When they got on that boat, a lot of us were thinking that all it takes is a couple of people that already are exposed and this is going to turn into Poop Cruise 2.0, except worse because they are going to pull into Florida in a week and they are not going to let them land, but they were all going to sit out here in quarantine. Even though the incubation period is long enough that by the time they got back they might all still have it, but nobody got sick and everybody was fine.

They did not keep a six foot social distance, but nerds typically keep a good foot and a half social distance from one another. By the end of the boat they were like: ”Do we really want to go back to shore? It doesn't sound like things are going so good back there!” If in fact, nobody on the cruise was sick, they might have been the last pocket of healthy human beings on the planet and they should have stayed on the ship and could have repopulated the earth. If John was going to pick a group from which to repopulate the earth, you would certainly have a brand new kind of earth if it was repopulated from the JoCo Cruise. There would be a lot less competitive sports in the next couple of generations, but they would build spectacular bridges and dams and they would have an active space program. Take the good with the bad!

People having a hard time with social isolation

Given the amount of brouhaha on Twitter right now, all these: ”How are you surviving social isolation?” - ”Dude, five days, five days, it's five days! If you can't manage five days without panicking, what are you going to do two months from now? Give us a break!” Social isolation right now is just normal behavior, like: ”Don't go around sneezing on people!”

Going to the beach where you don’t bump into people

John has been going to the beach because the beach is a place where you can see people from far off. If you look down the beach and someone is coming toward you, you have a lot of opportunity to deviate course. There is no point in time where you turn a corner and smash into somebody. This time in Washington state it is cold out, but it is sunny and everybody is bundled up and walking around the beach and you turn rocks over and you are looking at baby crabs and you are watching the seagulls and the crows fight it out. It is nice out there!

Everybody on the beach knows to stay away from each other, but that is always true on Washington beaches. If you see somebody on the beach in Washington, you nod and give a half grimace, half smile, but that is the Washington way and the half grimace, half smile is: ”Oh, you are also on my beach! I will allow it!”, but now it is friendlier. The feeling of solidarity, which is like: ”Ha ha, you are also on my beach!” Are we all the way to feeling like it is our beach? No, but maybe someday we will arrive at: ”This is our beach!”

People constantly following the news

It has been five days, let's check back in with each other in 25 days. John went back on Twitter because he felt like this was breaking news and he needed to stay on top of it. Dan had to socially isolate himself from people he has never hung out with in person even, or friends in other states, because they can't stop obsessing and watching the news and looking at every single new case that is coming out. Focus on the stuff that you can do something about! Be considerate with what you are buying, how many rolls of toilet paper you really need. Can you personally save the economy from a recession or worse? There are surely some billionaires who could shift and turn the course of the stock market listening to the show, but aside from them most of us we can't, so don't worry about it. Whatever happens is going to happen and there is nothing you can do from your sofa about this.

Dan is friends with people in the hospitality industry, like he knows somebody who works at South by Southwest, for example, and she is worried. Another one of his friends is the main marketing guy for the Alamo Drafthouse and they have closed all of their theaters until they can open them again, so he is on a furlough. He knows other people who are just basically not sure what they are going to do, whether they work in a restaurant or something like that. That is a real concern. But there are a lot of us who are working from home or working from our small office spaces and why are you sitting there watching the news all day long? Turn it off!

Dan is trying to explain to people that mainstream media, their job is to freak you the fuck out. That is their only job and they don't even know they are doing it because they have been doing it for so long and that is what the culture is there. They don't know what else they should be doing or what else to do because they want you to watch what they are saying and they want you to be freaked out because if you are freaked out you will watch more. There is nothing that is going to happen between 8am and 5pm that you need to know that second!

If you want to start your day with it and end your day with it, whatever. Spend 15 minutes, read your favorite couple websites, watch TV, and it doesn't matter when you start the 15 minutes or when you stop the 15 minutes, but you are going to learn everything that you need to know in that 10-15 minutes about what happened that day and that's it and then get out of there! If you are a parent you are going to get an email whether your kids are coming back to school or not. You are going to be informed of the important things that are happening in your life.

They just closed bars and restaurants in Austin yesterday and you can do pickup and delivery only and Dan found that out at about 7pm last night when he did his 15 minutes of looking at the news and Dan is not eating out much anyway right now and he will call in an order and pick it up if he needed it. Did he need to know that the minute that that story broke? Is it going to affect him? Of course we are only going to pick up our food, everybody knows that that is the progression. Get off the damn news!

people reflexively reflecting on their privilege

John noticed a lot in his smaller circles in the last handful of years a really powerful social expectation that people in the white middle class, people in the black and Asian middle class, are expected socially by their peers to constantly apologize for themselves. Initially it was a way of acknowledging that you had an understanding that you were going through life with a set of circumstances that put up fewer obstacles to you than other people. It is much harder for a black woman than it is for a white woman just to live in the world in ways that a white woman wouldn't understand. This is basic wokeness and by now that message has penetrated if you are on the political left, and if you have not done that personal reflection, then that it is on you. You should have done that work.

Also, we have all acknowledged that that is difficult work to keep in the forefront of your mind. Every day you get up and you get in your car and you work in your life and you got problems. It is difficult to remember that when you are waiting in line behind a black woman and she is trying to do the same thing that you are doing, she has more obstacles just in general than you do and compassion is the order of the day. That should affect your world view and how you conduct your business.

This morphed into a reflexive genuflection of that fact because it is much more comfortable for people on the left to have a shibboleth, or terms of wokeness, that they can say to one another to communicate that they are on the same team and each person is saying that they are a better version of the thing we are all in agreement about. It has supplanted the actual difficult work of reminding yourself that that is true because you have a shibboleth, a mantra, and are reflexively apologizing for yourself in every instance where you talk about your problems, saying: ”I know that it is coming from a position of privilege, but I can't believe that my car is still in the shop after two days!”

You are not talking about how difficult it is for other people, but you are talking about your actual problem. There are all these terms that are discredited, virtue signaling, for instance, but that is a real issue. If you are reflecting on your privilege reflexively, then you are not actually reflecting on it, but you are just humming a tune and actually reflecting on it is the difficult work and it is the only work of value. Repeating the chorus does nothing. It just inures us to the truth of the work and turns it into a song and dance routine.

John is noticing now in the atmosphere of Corona virus the initial acknowledgement that this is going to be even harder for some people than it is for John or Dan, people that are already working from home and are already socially isolated, but are the middle class. Rather than really think that through, a lot of people are just falling back on the chorus and that chorus has become a part of the problem because it is drowning out actual personal and societal reflection. Because it is a mantra it takes away the effectiveness of compassion because to say: ”I can't believe my car is still in the shop, but I say that from a position of privilege!”

How is that helping? How did that improve anyone else's life for you to do that? Your car is in the shop and you are pissed off about it. That is legitimate! It has nothing to do with anybody else! That is not an incidence where your social contribution can change anything, and nobody hearing it is moved to change anything about themselves. You are just humming to each other, and yet we have arrived in a place where a failure to do that stands out now.

To say: ”Oh God, my car is in the shop, I can't believe it! This guy!” John’s mechanic who makes $180.000 a year fixing cars and brags about it because he is a foreign car mechanic in Seattle. Every three weeks he got a new sports car, like: ”This Dodge Viper is year one and is worth a half a million dollars!” Whatever his hokey is, but because he is a blue collar guy something in John’s mind is activated to emphasize that class distinction and set up a scenario where he has less opportunity and is a disadvantage minority relative to him, when in fact he is a classic example of the American immigrant success story.

He is a Palestinian who came here with his four kids, he is raising them in America, he still practices his religion, a Palestinian Muslim who is running his own business, and yet for John to say: ”Why doesn’t he fucking hurry up and fix my car?”, we expect this reflexive and false subjugation of our own problems to his because of this need to communicate and broadcast to one another that we are a virtuous class. John doesn’t know how long that can be sustained under a corona virus that is amplifying it and is turning up the volume on it in a way that now has become static. There are real things we need to collectively do and pull together and bass-ackwards, middle class socialist attempts to be on the right side of class warfare as exemplified maybe on Twitter only or at least more than it is in the actual world, is tired!

The blood banks are low, and giving blood is a basic civic contribution, but a lot of people say they don't want to go give blood because that seems like a place where people are going to cough on you, understandably, but also: It doesn't take long to deplete the blood supply, a thing that needs to be constantly replenished. They get a lot of blood from college students and all colleges are closed. It is a lot harder to keep the blood supply up if you are counting on individual people getting in their car and going to the blood bank to donate, but that is a real thing that we can do, that is basic, that helps the collective self of the people.

They are also doing their great work, their masterpiece, which is Road Work, the greatest thing Dan and John will ever do and be remembered for because it is helping the most people. Their work is essential to the preservation of of society and as such they should have a greater ration of meat when meat rationing comes into play. John is not going to apologize for more meat. They earned it, they deserve it, and this is the time when they need it!

John doesn’t think this is the big plague he has been thinking about

John doesn’t think that this is going to be as bad as the worst prognoses, and that is going to be evidence that we did the right thing, which is always a problem because when a thing doesn't become a disaster because we did right, there are going to be a lot of people that feel that it wasn't a disaster and there was no reason to do it because it never turned into anything and the next chicken virus is the one that is really going to kill 100 million people because everybody is saying: ”Fuck it! I am going out to St. Patrick's Day!”

John has been thinking about this plague for a long time, for decades, he knew it was coming, and he doesn’t think this is the big one, but it is a good test. Dan thinks that the kind of plague that scares people the most is the kind that kills everyone equally, regardless of your age, regardless of underlying health issues, regardless of anything,
but simply if you are exposed to it, you die. Yes, it could mutate like the cold virus mutates and the flu mutates, which is why you don't get the flu once and never again, because it is a little bit different every year. Even Road Work mutated! It was very different in the beginning! In the case of something like this, if it mutates, it means that even though you had that same virus a year or two ago, you could in theory get it again.

You can have a cold and then you can get another cold a month or two or six or whatever later and it is about the same as the other one, but that is not always determined by the variation of the cold virus as much as: Are you healthy at the time? Were you a little bit more run down? Did you push yourself a little bit? Did you immediately as soon as you felt a sore throat coming on stay in bed all day or did you go to work? Those are all determining factors in how bad your cold is, too.

Dan’s understanding from what he has read and he talked to a CDC person about this actually, is that if it evolves, then it would simply evolve into a slightly different version of itself, which would mean you might potentially be susceptible to get it again if you didn't get it the first time. Dan is a man of rigorous science and his prediction is that this has been around even here in the States much longer than people think that it has and as the numbers start to come out, there are people who are trying to do complete testing of groups of people, whether it is cities or towns or communities of one kind or another and they are finding that when they do these tests not just of the 3 people who have symptoms and the people directly around them, but when they are testing larger groups of people, they are finding that a much higher number of people have this and are completely asymptomatic, but are of course carriers and can spread it to someone who is potentially more vulnerable to it.

Many more people seem to have it and don't know that they have it, and only a very small subset of people even present any symptoms at all. A much smaller subset of those people have what they are calling a severe case of it, and a small subset of those people are the ones who are unfortunately dying from it. Dan actually thinks that the death rates, as they are using that term, are going to continue to even seem smaller if they were able to truly test a much larger group of people. That doesn't change that we should take it any more lightly.

The other information that has been coming out is that a lot of the people that are getting it are asymptomatic and don't know that they have it, but when we look at the actual facts and information, especially what has been coming out of Italy recently, they were doing a bunch of research there, most of the people who got very sick from it, had at least one, but in many cases, two or three underlying health conditions in addition to being significantly well within the older population. The median age of people dying in Italy was 80 years old and all of them had at least one, but on average two to three underlying conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, things like that.

What that means is that we are doing the right thing by not spreading it around, by washing our hands more, by not being out there and doing all of that stuff, but more and more it seems like those most at risk for it are people with either immune issues or who are older or who are older and have underlying health conditions. The people that are the most important to be quarantined or isolated are those people. Dan thinks these numbers will bear out as people are going to be studying this the way they studied all things like 9/11 or the Challenger incident or what happened with the real estate market when it bottomed out. In retrospect we will look back and those are the things we are going to see.

People not listening if they are not in panic

Dan lived in Florida for way too long and they had hurricanes coming through there all the time. They were always seeing this exact same thing: ”They told us there was this horrible thing coming for us, they told us to panic, they told us to go make storm shutters out of plywood and put them on to our house and stock up on supplies and prepare for weeks or months of no water and no food, and three days ago it turned and now it is not even going to hit the United States, but it is going back out to sea. What did we do all that for? Our governors are stupid! The people at the storm centers and NOAA are idiots! Why are we following any of this advice? It is stupid!” The next time it happens, everyone says: ”I am not leaving! I am staying right here, finishing my coffee!” and then it does hit and their house is destroyed and they are like: ”Why didn't you tell us it was going to be serious?” You can't win!

They had that stupid boil water thing last year in Austin. They got an unprecedented amount of rain in Austin over a very short period of time where it rained really heavily for two weeks. Most of the water in Austin and surrounding areas comes from the Colorado River and the silt that was caused from all of the rain caused something called turbidity, which was a new word for Dan last year, meaning that the water is cloudy and filled with silt and even though it is very fine, it over time clogs up the intake filters that lead into the water treatment plant, which slows down how quickly the water gets into the plant and slows down the whole process. Instead of making a billion barrels of water a day, they can only make 400.000 barrels of water a day. It reduced it by a third or by half.

First of all, they said you have to conserve water and use less water and as soon as people hear that there is a run on all the water supply everywhere and everyone is buying bottles of water. Then they were saying: Conserve, but also boil the water and if you boil the water it is fine to drink. We are not going to run out of water. There was never a concern about running out of water, it was only that you needed to boil it because of the silt there was a slight chance that a crawdad or some kind of little bacterium could get into the water supply.

They were testing it constantly and they found nothing throughout the whole time that they had to conserve water, not one single issue, but they had to tell the population of Austin to drink bottled water or boiled water, and the guy would come on and say: ”We are trying to protect everybody all of the time and if even one single person in Austin gets sick we have failed!” That is the way that people in government and CDC are treating these kinds of things. They are not saying: ”It is okay if some people get sick from the water. Boil it if you are worried about it!”, but they have to say: ”Everybody must boil their water or buy the water, because if you don't, you are going to die!” They made such a big deal out of it because they have to protect everybody from everything all the time.

That is how government feels and media is going to sensationalize everything so you keep watching, which is the part of this culture that we are experiencing right now, because it is not enough to just say: ”Hey, there is this virus out there! You could potentially die from it if you fall into the category of people that seem like they die from it. We don't know for sure right now, but this is what it seems like and if that sounds like it could be you, that is a problem and you better be careful! We want everyone to just be mindful of this and just stay inside!” They can't put it out there like that, but they have to freak people out because if people aren't freaked out, they won't listen.

We are listening to the wrong experts

We put a premium in America on individual choice, or at least the appearance of individual choice. Situations like this are different because the fact that this is communicable means that we cannot have the fantasy of freedom of choice in terms of: Are we going to allow people to go to football games? You can’t show that the government has an interest in a complete lockdown of civic space. If you want to go to your cousin's house and swap spit, we aren't capable of locking down the world to that degree, we don't have the police state infrastructure, but on a thing like: Do you want to drink water straight out of the river or not? You can always just go down to the river and put your head in it and drink.

We don't have a libertarian enough society that the government feels like they can give everyone the information and then allow you to choose: ”Here is what the bug does. If you don't mind being sick from an intestinal parasite, by all means, don’t boil all your water!” and we don't do that because people aren't capable of interpreting even slightly complicated scientific information. So many of our institutions on all sides of the political spectrum are built around the idea that smarter people are going to interpret the data for you, and in a lot of cases we do need smart people to interpret data, but not all the time.

The problem is that a lot of people got into the data interpretation business that aren't smart or have an agenda. If your minister is the person you are turning to to interpret CDC data for you, you are consulting the wrong expert. If you are going to your minister to tell you whether or not the world is round, you are going to the wrong expert. Somewhere along the line we lost to the idea that expertise is not a generalized skillset.

You don't typically go to a general expert. If you are looking for astronomy, geology, biology, chemistry or engineering, you don't just go to the local wiseacre down around the pickle barrel, to your minister, or to a podcaster who is just throwing out ideas and seeing which ones are clay pigeons and which ones are real pigeons. We are in a world now where we rank actual experts, total charlatans, and just guys shouting around the pickle barrel all equally, depending on the degree to which you believe that the world is governed by conspiracy or not.

How conspiracies are the enemy

Conspiracies are the enemy in the sense that we have all experienced the thing where we ironically like a TV show or a band and then gradually find ourselves actually liking them and wondering how we got to this place. The original fans of My Little Pony were ironic and then pretty soon it was a whole cult of adults that were like: ”Actually, they have really great values!” Ironic hipster love of things often turns into mass culture and earnest love for thing.

But conspiracy theories among all of those mass cultural products… People start out like: ”Haha, the world is flat!Let me see what these Ding Dongs are talking about!” and then it doesn't take long to read up enough that you become a doubter. John Hodgman got really into Scientology for a while because it spooked him and he found all these Sea Org videos, these secret VHS tapes that had been copied 50 times and then put up on the Internet.

He watched them, he made John watch them, he made all his friends watch them. He subscribed to the magazines, he was really into it because he genuinely thought that this was nuts. It is not that it was ever indistinguishable from actual Scientology, but he was certainly consuming an awful lot of Scientology talk and you can trust someone like John Hodgman not to get swept up in it, but it was a fascination for a while.

That kind of conspiracy-oriented tourism gradually wears away our informed doubt about the whole idea that every conspiracy gets down to at its heart that the world is run behind closed doors by a small group of powerful people who not only put their own interests ahead of yours, but are willing to set up global structures of gaslighting and global mechanisms of control, evidence for which never quite convincingly leaks out except in the hands of a few noble warriors who have finally decoded the structure and have finally found that crucial piece of evidence.

It wears down on us and even though we can't ever point to one conspiracy that we think is the correct one, we do start to believe that conspiracy is an operative principle of life on earth, that there are conspiracies, that they are connected, but we can't quite solidify that idea and we can't really pick or choose between them and we recognize that if all were true it would be internally inconsistent. You can't have them all! Aliens can't live beneath the earth and also the earth is flat. If the Jews are controlling the media, it can't also be the aliens unless you are ready to call the Jews aliens or that Jews are slaves to the aliens, in which case there is an awful lot of levels of bureaucracy here. Why would the alien need the Jews? They don't! They could just directly control the world!

You have to start recognizing that all the conspiracy theories can't also be equally true, but that is where we have arrived culturally. There are conspiracies on the left. There are conspiracies on the right. There are conspiracies in the middle. We have accepted the language of conspiracy and the premise of it, and it doesn't matter that none of them actually line up, that none of them have any real evidence, that they are all of a family of spook stories and anti-Semitic tradition, control mechanisms, not of a global cabal, but control mechanisms on the small scale.

The guy at the cocktail party now has everybody's attention because he is the one that knows the truth. The dad doesn't let us drink Coke because Coke has got saltpeter in it and it keeps his boner down or whatever it is. It is just horse-shit that stands in for real politics and real science, but we accept it now in a way that 30-40 years ago that all would have been regarded as crackpot fringe stuff not worth our attention. Every time you turn on the television, the president of the United States is speaking the language of conspiracy. Every time you read Bernie Sanders intelligentsia they are advancing conspiracy theories that the Democratic National Committee is working in concert with global capitalism and is pulling the strings of the primary process and the superdelegates to eliminate the true voice of the people. Fuck you! Everybody is just trying to do their jobs!

Every one of these systems is motivated by the thousands of people that are working within it that are just making moment to moment decisions about which inbox to put any particular piece of paper in and the person at the top has all these people coming into their office every day, going: ”Oh, here is a new problem!” and most of them are just shooting from the hip. The only ones you can trust are the people that step away from their centrifuge and go: ”I just isolated a thing that I can look at through a microscope. I don't even know what it means!” or the engineer who says: ”Well, I have run the numbers and it seems like there is going to be more stress on this abutment than we knew before. We should we should go back to the drawing board!” That is the stuff that is real.

In politics and philosophy there are real truths, but John is increasingly in the minority to believe that because there is no truth that you can promulgate that there won't be always a louder voice saying that that truth that you are trying to promote is in service of some dark art. On the progressive side there has been the idea that if you are against a candidate, then you are against progressivism. It has been the craziest thing about the last five years. A certain segment of progressive thinkers have decided that progressivism is personified in one candidate and one set of policies, and to not be vociferously in favor of this one option is to be an enemy of progressivism!

Progressivism is a whole school of thought, it can't possibly be personified in one person or a group of people or a party or anything! To indict people as part of a conspiracy to suppress a school of thought because they don't line up behind a single platform or even a half a dozen platforms, it all stems from this weird global acceptance of this premise. Did it start with In Search Of… in the 1970s? That show with Leonard Nimoy was Dan’s bread and butter! That was his jam, more than anything. He couldn't look away from it, sometimes it terrified him, the Bigfoot episode in particular. It was scary and fun!

Of course it doesn't date to In Search Of…, but The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or Barry Goldwater, or the Minutemen or whatever. It is hatred of Masons and of the Knights of Columbus. It is threaded in America, but that was always crazy talk until now. Just talking about it on this show, John will get emails and letters from people that are like: ”How do you answer for this?” or: ”Just because the flat earth isn't true doesn't mean that the Jews don't control the media!” No one will say that, but…

John tweeted about a theory that the jets plowing into 9/11 were actually a hologram and the World Trade Center was blown up by explosives in the building, but hologram technique technology existed to create 3D holograms of jetliners to fool the public. John tweeted about this because it just astonished him how dumb you would have to be or how culpable you would have to be to entertain this theory, but there were people on the Internet who pushed back, who wanted to talk about Building 7, or the evidence for the existence of…

Dan’s response would be: ”Okay, but why are you so ready to dismiss all of those things without investigating them?” - ”Who is to say I haven't investigated them?” Every single conspiracy theory has been investigated 1000 different ways and in so many other aspects of life we accept the results of investigations. Does drinking bleach kill herpes? Well, no, it doesn't, because some guys in Arkansas drank bleach to kill their herpes and they died. We don't need to continue to believe that that evidence was tainted. The idea that investigations are illegitimate recapitulates the conspiracy idea. There is nothing within a conspiracy universe that will satisfy conspiracists because the investigations are all tainted by the cabal. It is an ouroboros!

There is no technology that could create a holographic airplane visible throughout the Tri-State area crashing into the World Trade Center. Evidence supports this! Also: Before that, it would not be in anyone's self-interest globally, to develop that technology and not reveal it and only use it in this one instance to conceal the fact that they hid explosives on two floors of the World Trade Center in order to destabilize the global economy, in order to corner the market, or whatever the conspiracy is, to create a global war against the Muslims. We didn't need it!

If you want to create a global war against the Muslims, all you need is to have your secretary of state stand up in front of the United Nations and wiggle a jar of baking soda. There is always a simpler explanation to almost every single conspiracy theory that is probably correct. Oswald? John has grown up his whole life hearing about the JFK assassination and so many resources, so many brilliant minds have gone over the available data and come up with a lot of various conclusions, including that Woody Harrelson’s dad dressed as a hobo and shot boogers at him.

Even if the JFK assassination was a mafia plot because Kennedy something something RFK, or a Cuban plot, or the CIA working in conjunction with the Mafia and the Cubans, for any of that to matter beyond just the short scope, like the mob was mad that RFK was cracking down on them and they had the power to put a guy on a grassy knoll and shot the person, even if that's true, who cares? The mafia got cracked down upon and is no longer a major player. It didn't matter! If it was the Cubans to revenge Bay of Pigs. It doesn't matter! Cuba got their own problems. It was now 60 years ago. Cuba and Castro and Raul, it didn't solve anything. CIA as part of a plan to perpetuate the Vietnam War, all that shit has played out!

Even if JFK was killed as a component of a large conspiracy, it requires that you have a susceptibility to the grand conspiracy to believe that the assassination of JFK was anything other than an unfortunate moment in history. Whether it was one crank or 50 cranks or some mobsters employing a crank, unless you believe that the bony hand of the Rothschilds and the Council on Foreign Relations is manipulating the strings in order to accomplish some other more nefarious plot, then who killed JFK doesn't matter.

It is hard for John as a Generation X American to say because he has been soaking in the Kennedy assassination his entire goddamned life as though it was the most important event in the 20th century, but it only is if that was your gateway to believing that what we see isn't real, and if you believe that what we see isn't real, that is what makes you susceptible to believe that hurricanes are being seeded in the clouds by whether chemists, that is what leads you to believe that the Corona virus was created in a lab to kill millions as part of a plan.

If you believe all that stuff and somebody tells you that the earth is round, you will say: ”Well, I don't know about this!” It is a slippery slope! Nowadays it is harder to sit in your chair and go: ”Actually, everything is pretty much like it seems. People have limited capacity and they are doing the best they can and they have built a world that is bigger than they can handle because it is easier to build new things than it is to figure out how old things work, so we keep building new things to try and fix the old things that we built that we didn't know how to run.

We are living in a world where programs are running right and left and we are trying to run the switchboard. That is why things are fucked up. The United States government has 50 different intelligence operations and none of them talk to each other. That seems way more fucked up than the idea that the Rothschilds know everything! And that is not a conspiracy, that is just people not knowing how to understand the programs that there are that are already running. How do you get on top of that? You listen to the chemists!


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