RW196 - The 15th Panel

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to the 15-panel comic strip A Short History of America by R. Crumb.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

John’s new overalls having an inferior buckle (RW196)

Dan noticed John dealing with some kind of buckle situation. John works in the garden now quite a bit and he got a couple of pairs of overalls from two different brands and both had a new cheapo pressed tin keyhole and key style latch buckle thing, but it is not as good as a button or other ways of hooking things. That is how it goes! Shit is no good anymore and that is just how it goes. People have written in to say that if John wanted to spend more he could get the vintage-y ones that are expensive and made the way that they used to be made, but John just really wants to throw it all in the garbage and start over, just start life over, do a complete reboot, go back, begin again, and this time try and get it right.

John getting mad about the news (RW196)

The bright side of quarantine is that John doesn’t have to go to shows anymore, which is nice. He is mad when he looks at the news now. He has never been mad, but the worst things he would experience were frustrated, disgusted, and bored. He always felt like people who got mad about the news were not managing their emotions very well, but now he is getting mad when he reads the news and is having a ”cleanse it with fire!” feeling. He wants to go back, restart, do over, and that is a new feeling, feeling desperate.

John is avoiding the news, he is not reading the news 20 times a day, so the antidote is not that he just should not read the news because he has all been doing that. It sneaks in! Dan also barely reads about it because there is no point to read about any of it. It doesn't do anything! Today they said that a week ago there were ”only” 750 cases in Travis County, which is the bigger Austin County, and people are excited! Compared to the number of people that live in Austin that is a minuscule number, but how many people are just sick at home and didn't bother to get tested, how many wanted to get tested, but couldn’t, how many got tested and the results wound up somewhere. That number doesn't mean anything!

Dan being worried about COVID-19 (RW196)

The COVID situation is just going to continue and continue and continue forever. Dan knows a woman who got it from her kid in daycare back in the very first wave of it when it came through. Her son is young enough to not be in school yet, he got it, he didn't have any symptoms at all, and she got it and then got him tested for antibodies and he tested positive for the antibodies, so that is how she figured it out because she hadn't had any other contact. Then you see on the news that kids don't really get it and they don't spread it if they do get it. What about her then?

Dan has had things happen to him in his life where when he would read about the statistics or the chances of that kind of thing happening to you, they would say it is 1 in 100.000 people, but it happened to him, which means that the odds are irrelevant. Dan is not feeling fear or feeling afraid, but 15 years ago he was a software developer and was for the most part writing code from his house. There was a while where he had a full time job, but he was telecommuting and they all worked remotely. If he got sick he would say to his boss: ”I'm sick!” and they would say: ”I am sorry! Feel better and take as much time as you need to feel better!”

For COVID this might be two weeks or longer, but they would have said: ”Whatever you need to do, these three people will pitch in and help and do the stuff that you do until you get back!” But now if Dan doesn’t show up, no shows get done, no shows get edited, no sales happen, Fireside doesn't get worked on, no support happens, no features get developed, and that setback financially would be insurmountable if Dan wasn't working for weeks. It is not like the flu, which Dan has had where you are really sick for a little while and then you start to feel better and you can work a little bit and work a little bit more until eventually you are back and you know what to expect and you know what the results of that illness are going to be.

You could get pneumonia from the flu maybe, but you are probably not going to and you can avoid getting the flu pretty well. We have flu shots, if you take those, and even if you don't: People who have the flu and are super-contagious, they go out for the first day or two, but you can tell when someone is sick with the flu because they look horrible and they feel bad and you can tell they shouldn't be out, but there are asymptomatic spreaders of COVID, so you could pick that up not knowing! Now they are talking about aerosolized , although there is a fine line between aerosol drops and tiny droplets.

Dan had to go to the dermatologist last week and he put on a KN95, a cloth mask, and a fricking face shield, and in there they were all wearing N95 masks, they are all pro, everything is wiped down, they clean everything in front of you, it is great, but that is not the way it is in the rest of the world. It sucks! John says it is the end of the world as we know it and so far we feel fine.

Dan and John’s kids being in virtual school (RW196)

This is the first show John is doing with his kid being in Zoom calls school. Her mom is on Zoom calls all day and this will be the first time that all three of them are doing some streaming Internet bandwidth gobbling, so let's see how it goes! It sounds really good right now.

Dan’s kids are also doing the virtual thing and they both hate it. His son is 12 and he is in 7th grade and his daughter is 9, the same age as John’s, and she is in 4th grade and they are both miserable, they both hate it, they hate everything about it, it couldn't be possibly worse and it sucks and Dan doesn’t know what to do about it. They both want to go in. They go to a private school, so 50% of the kids are in the school and 50% are virtual. The classes are small anyway, they might only have 15 kids in the class, maybe less, and it is just weird and Dan hates it and everyone hates it and there is nothing really to be done about it.

If they were to go to school they would get it and then Dan would get it. You hear about these long term effects that people have from it. If it was just going to be the flu he would just send them and if he got sick for two weeks it would be fine, but you hear about people who months later still have cognitive issues, assuming that you get a mild or medium case of it, and you just don't know! There is so much unknown and all it does is create angst and anxiety and there is no end to it ever, it is just 100% shit show from now on.

John’s kid is on day two of this remote school and John came within a snap of a finger in telling the school that he was going to home school her this quarter. The only thing that stopped his is the principal of the school wanted John to talk to him on a Zoom call. It is a new principle, he is from Texas so you know he can be trusted and they talked for an hour, he had a lot of appealing humility mixed with confidence, he had the feeling that you want from someone that has dedicated themselves to a job like teaching which they are clearly not doing to get rich.

Back in the day you always hoped that teachers would all be teachers because they were idealists and they wanted to make a difference in the world, and you really didn't want to get a teacher that either is a teacher because they thought it would be easy or a teacher that had been doing it for too long and doesn't want to be doing it anymore, but it is a solid job and so they just keep doing it past their sell by date. John also never wanted a teacher that was too idealistic. This guy is John’s age, he is a lifer and he believes in education and and he is technology savvy, so all of John’s questions about: ”You are going to be teaching to the mean and nobody wants that! I don't want her to be in a class where you are just shooting for the low middle!”, but he came back and he had all these solutions and technological workarounds and plans, plans, plans, plans.

John told him what he had been doing with her and he congratulated him and said that John was one of the good ones and he understood if John didn't want to send his kid back to school because he was doing such a bang up job and he was flattering him. At the same time John really did feel that at a certain point he was on to something: In 4th grade your kid doesn't have to learn biology, but they just have to learn not to hate school and how to get along with other kids and what? Times tables? Dan’s daughter read a short-form novel about a sled dog. John got a little reader at his house, so he is not worried about her reading books, but he does worry about whether or not she will be able to do math with fractions, but he has been teaching her that stuff and she' has been having little classes with all of her relatives.

John got everybody in the family to agree to meet with her for one hour a week, in some cases two hours a week, and teach her what they know. His family is almost all teachers, his cousin Libby is a teacher, his brother Bart is a teacher, her grandfather on her mother's side teaches at Western Washington University, her other grandfather and grandmother both teach at UC Santa Cruz, John’s mom studied as a teacher, although she only did student teaching in the 1950s and then got into computers, but everybody is a teacher.

You throw John’s sister in there for good measure who is a natural born pedagogue and then John himself and everybody was doing an hour a week with her and she didn't even notice it. She didn't even feel like it was school. She was just sitting with Nana to talk about grammar, and then granddad is on the computer and they are going to do drawing. But then John talked to this principal and he was afraid that he would like him and he did like him.

John felt pressured by the overwhelming desire to comply with the system. He had everybody in the family on board, they were just going to do this, they were not going to go back to school, but when the principal revealed himself to be a reasonable and thoughtful, caring educator John suddenly was in a position where he was no longer rescuing them from a fate worse than death, which was that their child would be on the computer for four hours a day, but he was now going against a world where everybody was trying to do their best and John was going to be the enemy of science.

John went to all the family and said they should switch their times from mornings to afternoons and after she gets done with her four hours of school she will get a couple hours to have a nice lunch and have a break, read a book, goof around, and then in the afternoons and evenings she will still meet every day with a different family member who will teach her something they know. Hopefully John has set up the best possible situation, it is way better than they had last year when everybody in the family just sent him emails sometimes, going: ”How is it going there?” Now they talk to her every week. Everybody is pulling together. They only have one kid in the whole clan and everybody can devote an hour of their week to the one little person.

Today, day two, was so much worse than day one. Day one was like: ”I am on the computer, there are all my friends!” and today she is like: ”How do Google Docs work?” - ”Oh, baby, you and I are in trouble together because I don't know either!”

How travel has disappeared due to coronavirus (RW196)

John’s current status is: ”On the fence about the future!” He still doesn’t care that the world is not going back to normal and he is fine with it. He is reading articles in The Economist and in the Financial Times where they are saying: You have no idea the repercussions, how it hasn't even begun to filter down through all the systems that depend on the integrated world of travel. It seems like the economy was 80% travel if you include the idea that people woke up in the morning and traveled to work and then traveled home.

All the businesses downtown that cater to the tens of thousands of office workers that arrive there as basically an infestation or a shadow army, don't need to be there anymore, all of the people that were servicing the people that were downtown don't need to be there anymore, all the transportation systems increasingly don't really need to be there like that, but then you got this global network of airplanes and hotels and all that business shit. Reading this article recently about how much airline traffic was business: Salesman has to fly to sales meeting, guy needs to get to place to talk to company about sales. If you think about the damage and the destruction caused by what really just in the second half of John’s life resulted from the absolute proliferation of intercontinental travel.

When John was a kid it was still a big deal to get on an airplane and go somewhere. It was expensive, it was a very special experience, you didn't have to be wealthy to do it, but it felt like that, it was an extraordinary thing. All the stuff that went along with airplane travel, like the hotels and the experience of walking through a terminal. There were little signs and signals that this was special, people were wearing uniforms and there was a white glove service to things, and then it became just another way of taking the bus and airplane terminals are developed at their best as a fake glitzy luxe, at their worst like the bottom floor of the Port Authority bus terminal in New York.

John lives close to an airport and two weeks before coronavirus the whole neighborhood was undergirded with a rumble, there was a constant noise as planes took off and landed all day every day, but two weeks into coronavirus you could hear insects and there hadn't been a plane in weeks. Someone told Dan that 98% of air travel is is gone now, and all of the stuff that goes with that, all of the crazy stuff that attends the idea that you need to go there to do your work, the white collar idea that: ”Well, we could have this conversation over the phone, but why don't I just fly out there and get a hotel and we will spend three days standing over a table, looking at the same document, and I will get to wine and dine you a little bit and then we will decide how many metric feet of Amalgamated Flexible Hose you are going to buy for this project from my company.

Just thinking about how unnecessary it is, how much a product of its time and how much that had grown to be normal and feels normal and feels like something is being lost, all these hand-wringing articles in the economics trades about how we are on the way to a collapse of civilization. You just feel like: Wow, if the airlines fail who cares really? John is going to miss being able to fly to Los Angeles for $100. If 6 out of 10 airlines fail maybe he will have to pay $300 to fly to Los Angeles and maybe he will have to pay $1000, but it will be $1000 of different money in a different time and a different economy. It will make flying to Los Angeles something that he doesn't just jump on a plane to do because a friend of his is having a dinner party.

That felt so modern and it felt so like the future: ”I am a big shot now! I am a middle aged guy. I got friends all over. I am going to fly down to Los Angeles for a dinner party. How do you like me now?” Is that the future? That would be absolutely an unthinkable thing for someone to have done when Dan was a kid, unless you were Phil Collins, the idea of just saying: ”My friend invited me out, so I am going to head out Friday after work and I will be back by Monday!” That was normal nowadays, but when Dan was a kid flying was like… You got a little metal wing pin, if you were lucky the pilot might come and hand you one of the airplanes, a deck of playing cards, a pen with the airline's name on it.

Dan flew alone a few times when he was 7-8 years old and they treated him so well, everyone knew they had a boy flying on his own, the flight attendants which they used to call stewardesses would come by and check and give you a little thing and the pilot might come out. Now it is some kid over there, just don't make noise!

John’s character alignment (RW196)

The challenge is that in John’s household there is a tendency to want to obey the rules and he is an outlier because obeying the rules does not make him more comfortable. He is not against the rules, but if it comes down to doing what he thinks is right or following the rules, then the rules have to make a pretty convincing case for themselves, which is why you would never describe him as Lawful Good. He is a different kind of good, he always thought he was a Chaotic Good, but lately someone said maybe he was Neutral Good, which might have been an insult.

They had talked about this and Dan thinks he said that John was Neutral Good or Chaotic Good. That awesome fellow that does the wiki on everything that John ever said and done (me!) would know. John is not sure he is a Dungeons and Dragons (he is not), but he would know what Dan said John was years ago because he can't remember (it was in the bonus content of episode 138 and Dan agreed that John was Chaotic Good or maybe Neutral Good). Dan would definitely put John in Neutral Good which basically means John does whatever is in his best interests, but it is always for the good, but it might just be the good of himself.

John doesn’t agree because he doesn’t generally do things for the good of himself. He does things for the larger good, even when it is against his own good, but that does not mean that he follows the rules. The Wikipedia definition of Neutral Good is: ”Neutral Good character typically acts altruistically without regard for or against lawful precepts such as rules or tradition. A Neutral Good character has no problems with cooperating with lawful officials, but does not feel beholden to them. In the event that doing the right thing requires the bending or breaking of rules, they do not suffer the same inner conflict a Lawful Good character would. Examples of this alignment include many celestials, some cloud giants, and most gnomes.”

”A chaotic good character does what is necessary to bring about change for the better, disdains bureaucratic organizations that get in the way of social improvement, and places a high value on personal freedom, not only for oneself, but for others as well. Chaotic good characters usually intend to do the right thing, but their methods are generally disorganized and often out of sync with the rest of society. Examples of this alignment include copper dragons, many elves, and unicorns.”

John oscillates between the two, there are times you could describe him as Chaotic Good, but mostly probably Neutral Good. Dan is Lawful Neutral: ”A lawful neutral character typically believes strongly in lawful concepts such as honor, order, rules, and tradition, but often follows a personal code in addition to, or even in preference to, one set down by a benevolent authority. Examples of this alignment include a soldier who always follows orders, a judge or enforcer who adheres mercilessly to the letter of the law, a disciplined monk, and some wizards.”

Dan is not sure. He does value the traditions of stuff and he thinks he has a goodness in there. John wouldn't say that Dan was pursuing a higher good, but he is pursuing an expedient good and he is lawful, but Lawful Good: ”A lawful good character typically acts with compassion and always with honor and a sense of duty. However, lawful good characters will often regret taking any action they fear would violate their code, even if they recognize such action as being good. Such characters include gold dragons, righteous knights, paladins, and most dwarves.”

Dan is not a soldier following rules, or judge dread, but John is still going to throw a Lawful Neutral down and if somebody has a better idea they can send a letter. John is surrounded by a lot of Lawful Good people because that is who you hopefully end up being surrounded by! He does know a couple of lawful evil people: ”A lawful evil character sees a well-ordered system as being easier to exploit than to necessarily follow. Examples of this alignment include tyrants, devils, corrupt officials, undiscriminating mercenary types who have a strict code of conduct, blue dragons, and hobgoblins.”

Dan wants to find a more official website than Wikipedia because although Wikipedia is always correct and perfect, this has been updated recently by some furries and maybe doesn't convey the true nature of 1979’s Gary Gygax original Dungeons & Dragons module alignments that John grew up with.

They continue to talk about character alignments at the beginning of the Bonus Content (see below)

A Short History of America by R. Crumb (RW196)

You can never know about the future what it is, all you can do is compare it to what we thought it was going to be in our own past, and the whole problem with our generation is the: ”Where are the flying cars?” problem because we grew up in a time when science fiction was an unprecedented amount of popular science fiction in our culture. There is a classic R. Crumb multi-panel drawing of a single shot on a forest and over hundreds of years the trees get chopped down, it becomes a pasture, then a farm, then a road goes in, then the railroads, and it is beautiful, it is called A Short History of America, a wonderful sardonic strip with 12 panels that depict America from bucolic wilderness to the hectic cityscape of the late 1970s when this was drawn.

It is often reproduced as just that 12 panel strip, but there are three more panels at the bottom. The 12 panels tell an elegant story and it seems very much like he made his point by the end that what was once a paradise is now a garbage dump, but the three panels at the bottom are three potential futures from his present based on 1977: One panel is a sunbaked and burned-out post-apocalypse, one is a hyper-modern flying cars space port that seems like clean skies, that is the version where technology has solved all our problems, and the third version is the one that he either prefers or because he is living in his San Francisco culture of 1977 it is the one that he drew to get laid. It is an ecotopia, a return to nature.

It is really interesting to have seen this comic appear many times over the years and see how often it appears as a 12 panel and how you almost never see it as a 15 panel. Dan remembers it from being a kid and most of the ones that he is finding don't have the last three panels. He remembers the full thing because it is square when you have the full thing, but it is like 16:9 when you don't. Dan always remembers it as being square. It is a strange example of people editing out the… because without the three it is a critique and with the three it is a dire warning or perhaps a glimpse of Futuretron.

We are living in a time when it seems very possible that the future actually is not that you fly across the country when your friends have a cocktail party, but the future is that we don't fly that much, that we retract some of this most aggressive and ultimately driven entirely by a culture of sales, this idea that people aren't flying across the country to go to cocktail parties, they are flying across the country to sell articulated homes, and they could be selling articulated hose by 1000 different methods. The people that need articulated hose presumably are going to find the best articulated hopes for their project, they don't need a guy coming into their office, trying to sweeten the deal with a bunch of sales bullshit and steak dinners.

That is what drives a lot of the American economy: ”The best company is clearly this one, but they didn't send a sales rep out. This company, their hose isn't as good and they are kind of shady, but they send this guy out, he is a real nice guy, he takes me out drinking, and since I am in charge of the budget I am going to buy this shoddy hose and nobody is going to notice anyway because by the time the hose fails I have moved on out of this job!” It is that kind of bad business.

John has sat on 1000 airplanes next to these guys with their brown socks and their spreadsheet open on their computer, these are the guys that that are still talking on their phones after the doors have shut down and the flight attendant is like: ”Okay now, everybody turn on your devices off!” All these people, the entire front of the airplane and more, maybe it does all go away, maybe the Howard Johnson’s on every corner goes away, maybe the future is the third of the missing panels of R. Crumb’s Short History of America, the 15th panel?

We think we dodged a bullet by ending the possibility of nuclear war, pretending the nukes don't exist anymore. The last 20 years has been characterized by: ”Well, I am sure the nukes are in good hands! We keep them around just in case” We missed the sun-baked apocalyptic apocalypse, except now it is happening anyway. California is burning to the ground and everywhere else is too. We keep thinking that we are on the cusp of the 14th panel, the Elon Musk future, the shiny spaceship that flies straight to Mars, the shiny trains that whisk us from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and the shiny electric cars and glossy laptops that let us read poets from all around the world in real time translation, but of course that has produced this cultural garbage barge we are on now.

In a way the technology has done amazing things. There are amazing things all around us and if you could built a society around it or if you could slot that thing into a well-built society, that would be a great little tool. There is nothing wrong with Tesla cars, they have nothing to do with their kooky guy, it is a nice little invention, too bad that John didn't buy one three years ago before Elon Musk revealed himself to be such a twat. John used to talk about Elon Musk all the time as this funny guy, but now it is just: ”No, he is a twat!” It is sad, but maybe it is version three, the 15th panel, which always felt a little bit like the result of an apocalypse.

It probably felt like that to Crumb too, although John suspects he drew it because he was always trying to suck up to the counterculture because he hated the counterculture, but it was also his universe and if he was going to get laid, it was going to be there. There is something about the way the trees have grown up, the fact that civilization looks like a rainbow gathering, it suggests that the world came to an end and got rebuilt in the image of something else, although not primitivism. You imagine in a place like that they have the modern technology that they need, but probably are not carrying around pocket computers, or if they are R. Crumb in 1977 could not have predicted that our pocket computers would be such a pain in the ass.

Idealizing technology just for its own sake (RW196)

On his more tech focused shows Dan often says that nobody wants a phone or a computer. These are tools. You don't see people walking around saying: ”Man, I really want that hammer!”, but they have a reason that they need to use the hammer. They are not just idealizing a hammer, they are not walking around thinking. ”I got to get that new one! My old one… the handle. I need that new one… that thing pulls nails out and is going to save me time!” You need a hammer because you are doing a thing that involves a hammer, and the iPhones are really one of the first tools that we have had that we integrate into every aspect of our lives. What other item is there that you have with you all the time and that you use when you don't need it. You have your wallet with you all the time, but you don't take your wallet out and hold it while you are crossing the street, holding your kid's hand. You don't hold your wallet and look at it.

You shouldn't be playing Mahjong on your phone when your kid is talking to you, and Dan doesn’t, but most people are doing that. Most people are multitasking and that is why Dan says: Nobody wants a phone. We want the things that a phone does for us. The phone can tell me whether I should turn right or left at this light. The phone tells me if someone that I care about needs something. The phone reminds me to do things that I might forget. The phone allows me to communicate with people who are in faraway lands. I can look things up. I can look up what Neutral Good means. All of these are things that I can do and I can do them all with just one thing. Since when could you do all of this with one thing?

20 years ago if Dan wanted to talk to John and they weren’t in person he would go to a tool called a telephone that would be sitting on a little special table, or mounted on the wall of his house, and if he was lucky he had a cordless version of that that he could use to talk to John, if not he might have a very long wire connecting the handset to that piece of equipment on the wall, but that was the only reason he would be on a phone. If he wanted to send a message to someone he had a system for that, too, he had envelopes, stamps, paper and pencil, and he could send a message, and then someone would come and take that envelope and put it in their bag and drive it across the country and hand it to that person.

All of those things were separate, but today our phone allows us to do all of this at the same time. But the reality is that some something happened so that we started to idealize the technology itself for the sake of its own thing. What you really want is some kind of intelligence that is listening, so that you can say to the intelligence, the assistant, whatever you want to call it: ”Hey, I haven't seen John in a little while, I want to have lunch with John this week, can you set something up?” - ”Of course I can, Dan!” and his little assistant talks to John’s little assistant and they pick a restaurant that they know they like and they make a reservation for say: ”Okay, your lunch with John is set up for Thursday at 2pm!” and then that is it and at 1pm it says: ”Don't forget your lunch with John!”

That is what we want. Human beings have ways of communicating that we are very good at: We speak and we listen and sometimes we read, and those are the three ways that are best to communicate. Dan never ever wants to pick up the remote and hold down the microphone button and say: ”Kingdome!” into it and have it mishear him three times until finally it gets it and then show him the wrong Kingdome, not the Korean one, but some other one that looks like it is about boxing or something and then he has to go back out of the thing. That is not what we want! We don't want any of that! Dan doesn’t want to have to put a phone in his pocket and carry it around and worry about the charge going bad. He doesn’t want to even take it out to take a picture of something, he just wants it to know what to do. We are getting there really slowly, but somehow along the way we have started to idealize and love the item itself, rather than what it can do for us, and that is part of the problem.

There will need to be a gatekeeper again, something we haven’t seen before (RW196)

John is a natural optimist and in situations like this, the number of paths to some terrible outcome, like a fascist autocracy or an environmental catastrophe or a world in which we are at war internally for decades, a world in which there is a systemic collapse, all those paths don't really interest him because they are all pretty literal and they are all just a walk down to a place where you can intellectually and emotionally wallow, which isn't what John wants. He doesn’t seek that, but he is always more intrigued by trying to find the what seemed like less likely, but what are in fact more likely paths to better outcomes.

In his 50 years of being on this planet and definitely in his 44 years of being conscious of what the media was reporting, conscious of what the temperature of the country was… He became aware of the media, the country at large, right at the end of Watergate, that was when he was old enough to watch the news, old enough to see magazines on the coffee table and flip through them. The Watergate energy was John’s early bath, and by the time Carter was in office he was very engaged in that aspect of the world, the news, the political life of the culture, but also the fixations, the obsessions of Time magazine, even then the flitting from one potential catastrophe to the next week after week, the Iran hostage crisis.

Reading those magazines as a kid in the late 1970s he was feeling: ”Well, if the Russians and the nukes don't get us, which they surely will, it is going to be first an energy crisis where there will be no energy left and everything will grind to a complete halt and economies will die, nations will die because we are out of gas and we don't have an alternative, but then famine will get us because we have reached a point where we have taxed Earth’s capacity to grow and already tens of millions of people are dying every year in Africa from these sweeping famines, but that is just the beginning. Famine is going to sweep the world! Famine is a byproduct of overpopulation.

We have reached peak population, Earth cannot handle any more people, and yet birth rates are skyrocketing and so we are going to choke ourselves to death, and if that doesn't do it, probably before that, the hole in the ozone layer, the ozone is shrinking and by 1985 there isn't going to be an ozone layer and we are all going to have to walk around with metal shields, we are going to have to live in bunkers because the sun's UV rays will be scorching the earth and then there won't be any food and then it will be worse than nuclear apocalypse because once we burn off the ozone, there is no bringing it back, and so on and so on…”

The 1970s and 1980s were John’s peak years of consuming weekly news media, it was one after another and every one of those scenarios were documented, scientists confirmed, they were plausible, there was consensus, and no one could see a path out. No one could see a path out of famine or of the ozone layer because in all those cases it was too late, we had already past the point where outlawing chlorofluorocarbons was going to make a difference, but we outlawed chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone layer seems to have largely repaired itself. That is not the environmental catastrophe we are worried about now, but the environmental catastrophe we are worried about is global warming, particulate that is reflecting the heat, the sun, something something something.

Famine somehow isn’t something that we talk about anymore thanks to innovations in agriculture, better land use policies, and the end of the regimes in Ethiopia and other places. The 1980s are defined by Hands Across America, We Are The World, or Sally Struthers who would do the Save the Ethiopian Children campaign. All of that reinforced a nature John already had: ”There is a solution! It is not where you expect it! If you are banging your head against a wall, then the solution is probably not to bang your head on that wall again, but to look a different direction. Often the people that are charged with finding the solution are not the ones that find it. Those people are entrenched. Those people are myopic, and the solution often comes from a place where they weren't even working on a solution to your problem, they were trying something else and then it turned out that they created a new world.”

Right now in this current moment it feels like the only way John wants to spend his time is not wallowing in the future fucking of imagining what six months from now is going to be the state of affairs. He says all that with a concomitant amount of despair at feeling like things have never been in his lifetime as bad as they are. There have always been people who were ignorant and proud, and if you tried to show them that they were ignorant, their pride forced them to turn more deeply towards their ignorance because pride was their primary way of interacting with the larger world, the outside world. No-one was going to tell them anything, it is an Appalachian mentality.

Pride and ignorance together have always been a component of American life and fortunately for us, for many decades a lot of the systems that we decry, the systems that are unfair did tend to mute the voices of people who were defiantly ignorant because defiantly ignorant people are also typically very loud, that is just in the nature of prideful ignorant people. They really believe and they really want you to know and they would rather die stupid than have you be right. They would set themselves on fire and die stupid to prove that your rightness, although technically correct, did not matter.

Those voices have been muted by systems, by forces, by the mainstream, by the cultural elite, by a preference for science and facts, and all of these things we have spent decades now gleefully and smugly dismantling because as intellectuals we want to extend the rights and extend the culture to be as inclusive as possible and also to provide access to the widest variety of people and voice as possible, but the unintended side effect is that the defiantly ignorant saw an opening and claimed that space, and now they are the loudest voices.

The concept of the Electoral College that we all decry as anti-democratic and unfair was precisely implemented to keep Appalachian dingdongs from running the government by sheer strength of prideful ignorance. Now we are in a world where the Electoral College does not represent some moneyed elite that went to the University of Virginia that are trying to keep the people from Kentucky from taking over the Congress, but now everything is fucking back-ackwards and we are living in a total shit show, but the one thing that has happened is the defiantly ignorant are ascendant and there is no putting them back in the bottle and on the left there is no interest or consensus that there is any truth or science or government, either.

The left, which at least should be the smarts, can't even for a second agree on on what font to use on the fucking leaflet. The defiantly ignorant at least are all united in their shared dumbness, but the smarts can't get their shit together. It has never been worse from John’s perspective, as someone that wants to look away from the writhing rat king of dumbs and look toward some kind of ivory tower, some smart place, where people are like: ”I have ideas and your ideas conflict with mine, but let's talk about it!” That place doesn't exist anymore, really, although John says that as someone who spends 8 hours a week talking about his theories. There is no public square anymore, there aren't any talk shows that are interesting, there aren’t any magazines that are good.

Magazines used to do a lot of heavy lifting in the culture and we thought that replacing magazines with the Internet was a net-improvement because now you could read any magazine and now anybody could write a magazine. The fundamental liberal truism is that education makes people smarter, education lifts people out of ignorance, and the more education you get, the more liberal you are going to be because education and leaving ignorance behind leads you toward liberal ideals and liberalism is focused on the future, not on the past!

But we didn't know that not everybody should publish a magazine. The fact that anybody can write a magazine length article does not mean that those are all good and that it is impossible to distinguish them. Just having thumbs up or thumbs down on Medium isn't sufficient for the good to rise to the top because defiantly dumb people are just as capable of clicking thumbs up on a thing and thumbs down on a different thing. If you lose editors, if you lose that middle world of people that say: ”This is a good album. This is not a good album. This is a good book and this is not a good book!”

In particular if you take those smart editors and you say: ”There are good books, then there are not good books, but be careful that the books that you think are not good aren't just a case where you don't understand that book because you didn't grow up in that culture, and also while you are at it, the difference between good books and not good books, you need to mitigate that, there needs to be an argument to the mean!” gradually even the smart editors are defanged. They can't really do what they used to do, which would be a cultural gatekeeper, and we have democratized that and now everybody is a cultural gatekeeper and everybody got a play list and everybody got a list of things that they have thumbs up, thumbs down.

There is no magazine, a thing that every week everybody reads and you can then go write an article about it, you can write your opinion piece or your letter to the editor about it, but everybody read it and the people that wrote it and edited it did so with the idea that everybody was going to read it. That was the premise. That is gone and it is gone for good. Anybody listening to this program that is under 40 years old is going to hear John cast aspersions, but they are not going to understand the description of what has been lost. They hear all of the things that John is lamenting, and they don't see what there was to limit because the hot take of the last 20 years has been that any cultural gatekeepers were elitist and that elitism was in an American context then by extension of its elitism complicit in all the crimes of the world.

Anything that is populist, anything that includes more variety, more voices, more voices, is always a net positive. Anything trending toward pure democracy away from representative democracy is a net good, and this has always been the tenant of the far left, that direct democracy is the end goal, but of course all of that presumes that the people that are active and engaged and educated will vote conscientiously, but the problem with direct democracy, as any Democrat or any person that has ever worked in politics will tell you, is that most people are dumb and aren't interested and education doesn't work on them.

They can go all the way through college and graduate school and never become liberals. They can go all the way through graduate school and still believe that the Earth was created in seven days, or still believe that the problem with the federal government budgets is that there are too many freeloading welfare queens. They hold on to their fixed ideas and all education does is give them more vocabulary to promulgate their fixed ideas and their sneering suggestion that the Jews control the media and their smug certitude that the only thing keeping us from tyranny is a misreading of the Second Amendment or whatever.

Young people just have to hear John as a crank. What is he advocating for? He cannot possibly be advocating for fewer voices, for cultural gatekeeping! This is an example of someone banging their head against a wall, except that someone is John: The solution is not going to be a return to the editors of The Atlantic magazine circa 1990, but the solution is going to come from somewhere else. It is going to go completely around John and his old media desires. There are going to be fewer voices, there have to be, but it is not going to come as a result of a return to a time before. It could be the result of something terrible, and a lot of people are worried that there will be fewer voices because of totalitarianism. John is not worried about that, but he is actually excited about a time when there are fewer fucking voices, although that may work against the fact that he has four podcasts.

John is living in a time when the fact that everybody has a voice means there is a venue for him and he arrogantly believes that there always was going to be a venue for him because he has a voice that there would be an audience for even in a world of fewer voices. Maybe that is not true, and you could make a good case that his voice is not so good that it would survive a purge of voices that his self-interest hopes is just the bottom 35% of the voices, but if it the purge goes all the way up to the bottom 45% of voices it may catch him and take him out. He doesn’t know if he is over the 50% line, but if you think about the what they talk about the listenership of podcasts, our podcast is in the top 5% of listeners because 95% podcasts have 400 listeners.

Whatever it is that reduces the chatter and delivers us unto a world where expertise once again holds sway over people's imaginations, where professionals matter, is probably not going to be a world that resembles a world that has come before, but we have to be excited about it, we have to think that way because if you are not an optimist, why bother thinking?


Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License