BW205 - Obsolete, circa 1993

This week, Dan and John talk about

The show title refers to John’s knowledge about the US military that was obsolete ca 1993 when he stopped adding new information to it.

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

Moving to subscriptions (BW205)

What scares John the most is that the whole capitalist model these days is attached to subscriptions. Everybody has decided that they are not selling you anything to take home, but they are selling you a monthly subscription to things. The first novelist that writes like that and then the next novelist will write a book that is proprietary to Kindle. You can’t read it unless you have a Kindle because the Kindle has features that allow you access to the meta-levels of the novel that other devices don’t do. Then we are down the rabbit hole where novels are dependent on proprietary technology and pretty soon will require you to be constantly paying international space dollars to engage with the culture. It is such a departure from going into a bookstore, paying for a book, walking out the door, sitting in a park and reading the book!

You and a book can be alone in the world together. You can go to a cabin in the remote Alaskan wilderness, read your Louis L’Amour novels and some old 1970s Playboys and feel like you are connected to the world. It is an old-person problem, but John feels this creeping acceptance of the idea that the corporation that is building the gizmo is also involved in all these other aspects in our lives. They are now a corporate friend of ours and we are in a relationship with this entity that gives us presents and all they ask in return is that we give them money, loyalty, and all the information about ourselves. With every step, you are getting invested in a relationship with them that you can never really get divorced from. That is a sea-change! We are all just acquiescing to this idea that we are in an emotional, committed relationship with Apple, Amazon, YouTube and Twitter. These relationships are emotionally complex and they are fulfilling our human needs.

Brand loyalty (BW205)

In 1995 John was at some Rock concert that he normally wouldn’t have gone to, some kind of Red Hot Chili Peppers thing that he got a free ticket for. He already felt he was in a different culture, but then he saw a girl in front of him in a tank top with a tattoo of the Nike swoosh tattooed on her shoulder blade. It wasn’t even a cool OP 1970s skateboard tank top, but a sports-bra style thing. It was pretty early on in the massive proliferation of tattoos that was yet to come. For the following two weeks, John talked about it with everybody he knew. What does that mean? Why would anybody do that? Does she like those tennis shoes so much? Or do the tennis shoes and the ”Just Do It!” motto symbolize something? Some kind of indomitability and action-oriented sports life? Today that woman is still out there somewhere and that tattoo is 20 years old. She was an early adopter and a forward-thinking person. Now there are a number of people who have Nike swooshes, Louis Vitton symbols or Apples tattooed on themselves. John will never be able to emotionally digest this completely. He will always be an outsider to the idea of getting the Mercedes symbol tattooed on himself.

A week ago John went to a model train show, because he is a man of a certain age. He saw an ad about it in the newspaper and only the people who still read the newspaper also want to go and see a model train show, so it was a perfect collaboration. You put a small ad at the back of AARP magazine and a big one in the newspaper. John was little disappointed by the execution of some of these guys who didn’t bring their A-game to the train show. According to his review, some of the trains were a bit under-thought. The crown jewel of the train show was a huge Playmobil train world constructed of Playmobil people with their little gas stations, airports, farms, pirate ships and so forth. There was a train running through this very effective ad for Playmobil. John thought that these Playmobil people were very cool because they resemble the Fisher Price people that he played with when he was a little kid. They are obviously superior to the Fisher Price people, even though it pains John to say that.

Playmobil arrived on the scene just after John was a kid. He was still playing with his Fisher Price, those little wood dowels without arms that that would fit into little circular slots of a car, a train or a plane. They even appeared on the cover of Sunny Day Real Estate’s first album! John was thinking about getting some of those Playmobils for his daughter, but he felt a little bit of brand loyalty and a little heartbreak at betraying his Fisher Price people! He was about to inflict Fisher Price on his daughter out of a sense of brand loyalty and a feeling of ”These were good enough for her dad!”, but then he realized that he shouldn't be an idiot because the Playmobil people are 1000 times better! They are the evolution of the Fisher Price people! There is no reason to feel brand loyal to Fisher Price, what did they ever do for him? It was just a dumb toy that they made! We act like this because we are tribal people. We think of ourselves as modern, but and all our modernity gives the lie to the idea that we are primitive. In our hearts we are still primitive tribal thinkers (and now they will get an angry letter from somebody for equating ”primitive” and ”tribal”)!

Tribalism and the win of the emotional side over the intellectual side (BW205)

Modern humans have been around for 50.000 years. We learned and inhabited all these traits and we spent most of our time on earth figuring out how to live in dob huts with our extended family group. We have had electricity for most of the last 90 years and we are now trying to navigate this world with all its racial poles while in the past distant echos made you grab your spear to defend your Fisher Price tribe. Then some over-voice comes in and tells your that you are an idiot because there is no tribe and there is no ”You”. You put your spear down and you feel underused! The actual skills you have are underutilized. You are attaching tremendous powers to those dumb things. Your ability to pick up a stick and defend your family is being colonized in your own mind by these companies, because your family doesn’t need defending, so why don’t you pick up this virtual stick and defend our brand? We will give you something to defend!

Once you identify those kind of primitive emotions in yourself, you want to try and transcend them, but Buddhism became a fashion in America only in living memory. Other people would have said we should try and channel those primitive emotions in positive ways. John doesn’t see any ability to use his mind to trump his emotional life. His emotional life is very primitive! All of our emotional lives are primitive and are structured to deal with a tribal world full of threat. John’s intellectual life can see that this is true, but all his attempts to impose intellectual ideas on his emotional life have been fruitless. While he is trying to tame that primitivism in him, he is still unclear how to channel it. Many problems of our culture and our world, even in those small cultures we live in, are easy to understand if you look at people and realize ”Oh, they are having this reaction like they are being attacked by a lion right now!” They are out of control because their emotional life is misperceiving threat and is misgauging their reaction. That isn’t even a flaw in them, but it is a fact that we evolved to live in a very different world than the one we are currently living in.

John doesn’t know how to help himself to make sense of those two competing narratives. He finds himself in this situation on an hourly basis. Intellectually he knows that there is no threat and, in fact, it is a humorous boondoggle which will make a very funny article that he probably will never write, but emotionally he is very upset. Even as he is screaming, clenching and fighting between fury and shame, there is this little voice on top of everything like ”This really isn’t anything! This doesn’t matter!” It sounds like a nanny trying to comfort an Orangutan or like Marry Poppins trying to explain something to a water buffalo. John is not able to impose a kind of ”Namaste” on it and in a lot of cases all he can do is restrain himself until his emotion ebbs and the reasonable voices come back. Until then this emotion is as real as anything in the world.

John has a tremendous sympathy for people who have less ability to govern these feelings when it comes to all the stuff that happens on the Internet. John spent a lot of time in the American South. He has had a lot of dinners with nice people whom he found to be the soul of graciousness - deeply human people who would scream at him on the Internet and he would scream back at them. On all his travels, people with completely opposing views could sit down and just be normal human beings with each other and have a very human and wonderful experience. We are invested in many dividing lines like racism and sexism right now. You take the two most racist people in the world with different views, put them together and ask them if they want to get some burgers and their humanity will win out. Some problems look unsolvable and institutional on the Internet. Our cops are poorly trained, they are coming from a military outlook, we are asking them to be human beings in our cities and they are coming at it from an institutional mentality that is unsuited for that job. This is why we get into these situations where we are at war with ourselves! On a human level, if you take off the uniforms of everybody and put everybody around a big dinner table, the humanity is going to win out over the tribalism every time!

Letting the monster take over and removing the leash (BW205)

Somehow we kid ourselves that we are evolved. We give an articulate voice to the inarticulate monster of our emotional worlds, the inarticulate beast that feels threatened or angry or excited or lustful or whatever those feelings are. We can portrait that monster as an erudite and thoughtful and considered creature of the mind. We are living in an between-state where we disavow the monster in us at our peril. We have been marching along this path of civilization and have been calling ourselves the enlightened animal. We have been turning our back and shunning the creature in us. Even until very recently we had institutionalized war-making. We were riding off to war on the backs of our Gallant Steeds with big giant feather plumes in our hats as way of saying that we are going to dress up war, which is the ugliest expression of the beast in us, and we are going to choreograph it and make it seem like it is part of the march of civilization.

Now we are in 2015 and John feels like we have back-slid a little bit. There is a lot less of that pump and circumstance that we used to govern the beast. First we had casual Fridays and now it is casual Everydays. People are flying in airplanes with their pajamas and their flip flops on. A lot of the social moires that used to govern us and kept the beast at bay, even if they were completely false, were at least an attempt to say that there are rules. We don’t fly on airplanes in our pajamas! We don’t show the beast! That is how we mark the progress of civilization! But here we are: We are putting much more value on personal freedom! Why wouldn’t I fly in flip flops? It is more comfortable! Why wouldn’t I just do what I want because who are you Obama to tell me I can’t do what I want? We are privileging this voice of personal freedom in our culture, but we are not reflecting on the fact that it is ultimately the voice of the beast. We imagine that libertarianism is some kind of lofty philosophy about the privileging of personal freedom over all else. That angry animal in us can maybe only be dealt with on a leash, but we are sliding into a place where we are taking away the leash and the animal is rewarding us with a lot of ”You are not the boss of me!”-talk that John thinks is going to have disastrous consequences, and not just because everybody on airplanes is going to be in their freaking G-string. ”Why wouldn’t I wear a G-String? It is fucking more comfortable! It has got the cowboys logo on it! It is America’s team!”

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