RW103 - Tiny Little Fascist

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to the tiny little fascist that lives in each of us and thinks he/she has the solution to all the world’s problems. If only everybody would do X, we could solve for Y.

John and Dan had a hard time getting on the phone with each other this morning, but they made it, which was all that counts. "We are here now together with our Internet friends." As Bob Arum Does (?) would say: "We are here now!"

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

Rajneeshpuram (RW103)

Dan was watching a Netflix documentary called Wild Wild Country. John had never heard of it, but he guessed correctly that it was about Rajneeshpuram. John had been at Rajneeshaville, not because he was into Rajneesheeism, but he first set out across America in the summer of 1986 as the Rajneeshees had just recently been kicked out of Eastern Oregon. It was a big news story when John was in High School and it was an era set off by Jonestown and the Moonies. You would also still see Hare Krishnas in the airport everywhere you went, but that would start to die off, too. Dan grew up in Philadelphia and Florida and that was not on his radar at all. John was in Alaska and it happened in Oregon, but it was on his radar, because stuff like that has always been on his radar. Crazy guy out in the dessert starts a new civilization, he has 40 Rolls Royces and everybody gives him all their money and they are all wearing robes. Tell me more! John followed the fall-out from it pretty closely. At the time, they didn’t know the whole business about it, for example that the woman who was running his office basically called out assassinations plots for all the local Oregon water use people.

It was exactly the story that Time Magazine would get a huge boner over every week. At first everybody wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this Suami did have something to say? Look at all the people who are pouring into his utopian world where there is no want and everybody just dances and has sex with each other! It was very intriguing, even to Middle America and it definitely was to John! Then the inevitable story of how it was all rotten from the inside emerged. As soon as Rajneesh started rolling around in these Rolls Royces, it was no longer hard to question from the outside. Why would he need so many? It was such a bad optic! They were creating a society without any boundaries, except the one boundary where he was driving through town in his Rolls Royce every day while everyone came out and and worshipped him as he drove by. That was not very American!

When John was driving across the country in on a motorcycle in 1986, he passed Rajneeshpurum, which was in receivership at the time, but although everybody had been chased out of there, it was still throbbing in the middle of nowhere. It had this profound gravity, because it felt not just connected to the culty stuff, but you also felt like The Beatles at the ashram. There was a mystical pull that felt a little bit like that 1960s sense that maybe the West was bankrupt and all the wisdom was just there, ready to be tapped. All we have to do is put a bindi between our eyes and learn the right incantations! That was part of the appeal of the place to John.

When the Jonestown thing happened, it rightfully shocked the world, but it really shocked John because he was in his very early teens where the whole idea of suicide, let alone mass-suicide, let alone forced mass-suicide did not make any sense to him. How would you get to a place in your life where you were that much in thrall to someone that someone else would be making decisions and you would be so captured? Parents were giving their kids poisoned Kool Aid! All of that just got inside John’s head and stayed in there for a long time, like a fucking cat. He was trying to make sense of it, because it did not seem like an isolated tragedy. It seemed like a window into the human experience that was very uncomfortable to look at. John was confused because the adults did not seem to spend time thinking and they were not asking the important question, which was ”How could people do that?” We just skip on! The question you really have to ask yourself is ”What would it take to get you to do that?” You can’t just write all these people off! You can’t write everybody off who went to Rajneeshpurum because thousands of smart and successful people had been there. It gets back to the fucking holocaust, basically, like everything does!

How quickly could we fall back to the past? (RW103)

The question with Rashneeshpurum, like with the holocaust, is "How thin is the curtain between us and that?” If you can go from that to this, it can’t really be that impossible to go back from this to that. John does not have very much faith that you can establish something in 50 years that will be inviolate from then on. On his walk from Amsterdam to Istanbul he was standing at some spot that not only had been a border in WWII and during the Cold War that he recognized from Time Magazine, but it had also been a border of the Roman Empire and the furthest Western Extend of the Huns where the armies were all drowned in the Danube. As John was there, the place was nothing. It had been a border for thousands of years, this stone in the ground used to represent something that people fought and died for countless of times, the ground was soaked in blood everywhere, but all of a sudden it was just a border between two nations of the European Union who share a currency and you just get one passport with a big circle of stars on it and La-di-da.

Several times John was standing at some road that wasn’t used anymore, but there was a candy-striped barber pole out in the forest indicating a former border. John was the only guy that had been there in a week and a half and he felt like it was a scene from Spies Like Us, except post-apocalypse, but the apocalypse was a peace-apocalypse, which there is not a lot of precedent for in history. John got a lot of pushback from the academic cadres of the year 2000 about his idea that there was any prospect of National Socialism or an European genocide ever revisiting, or that the edifice of liberal democracy was not anything other than eternal now. According to them, everybody will eventually be moving towards that and most importantly, once you get a toehold, you will never back-slide. You could be mad that George W Bush stole the election from Al Gore, but the institutions of democratic society prevailed. It was during that period where you started to feel a little shaky. A lot of it felt like it should be extralegal. The war in Iraq didn't feel like it went through enough of an approval process, but we actually did follow the law and had gone all the way to the United Nations. Still, it feels kind of obviously wrong.

John was speculating a lot about the Jonestown question of ”How deep is your confidence that you are not susceptible to being swept up in an idea like that?" All we need to do is X and that will solve for Y! ”I feel threatened and out of work”, ”I fell disrespected and down”, ”I feel underrepresented or unloved", but I can just do this, I can just hold on to my guns or follow this guy to Surinam or I can support this candidate who promises he is going to make everything better. How deep is any one person’s confidence that they can resist the temptation of feeling that the solution is simple?

John doesn’t have a tremendous confidence in any human being that there isn’t always a part of all of us, no matter how smart and aware, that doesn’t secretly believe that if everybody just followed these few simple precepts, then all these problems that plague us would melt away. The problem is that everybody in the world has different 5 simple precepts and you are never going to get everybody in the world to find the same 5 simple precepts. There is always going to be somebody who would like an amendment to the 5th precept. This would certainly be the opposite of liberal democracy! There is a tiny little fascist waiting in all of us who thinks that if he/she was in charge, or if everybody would just listen to person X, the world would all of a sudden make sense. If everybody was to follow Jim Jones or Hitler! There were so many of them who present themselves as benign. If we would all follow the precepts of Martha Stewart, we would be living in a very gentile world. If everybody was just punk as fuck, we’d all be punk as fuck and we would be living in the United States of Punk as Fuck!

Now we are living in a world where the temperature of that question has changed a lot. We were in a state where everybody who would read Time Magazine every week had a shared body of information with almost everyone else who read in the United States. 50% of the people in the US or even more than that don't read, but if you did read, you would read Time Magazine or at least The Times. Obviously that has problems and there are a lot of valid critiques saying that this is a form of information control and the hyperventilating class would call it information fascism, but there was a shared description of what constituted a liberal democracy. In a surprisingly short amount of time, just a few decades later, we went from that to a state where it doesn’t even feel that there is a shared definition of what charity or what hospitality is, let alone the shared goals of Western civilization. John doesn’t think that 60 years ago anybody would have predicted that we would be looking at Germany and see it as an example of a good liberal democracy and that we would envy their strange system.

Being vulnerable to changing your reality in relationships (RW103)

Instead of driving across America in 1986, John could have ran away from home a year earlier and could have been down there in Rajneeshpurum as an emancipated adult in his red robe. He doesn’t feel like a follower to anything or anyone, except that at that time in his life he felt the most vulnerable to this kind of thing. Anybody who has followed John over the last couple of years knows that as one of the running gags he is always positing himself as one of these demagogs. He doesn’t really want any followers, because he doesn’t want any people around, but he also pretends to have all the answers and that is one of these things that is funny because it is true.

John is most vulnerable to this type of thing in the context of a romantic relationship. You get into some kind of closeness with somebody and you create a shared reality. It is no longer just your reality bumbling through your life and intersecting with other people’s realities briefly, but it is a shared, common reality that you have to build with someone else and you have to modify your reality. Ideally you build a shared reality with somebody where the two realities coming in are close enough that it isn’t hard. I love cats! I love cats, too! If you have a lot of commonality, you have got building blocks and when you get into the metaphysical and you feel a bottomless hole late at night, the other person can say ”I can’t fill that, but I will pet your hair and say shush and tell you it is going to be okay” and that will do. You have built something that is shared and uncommon.

If you on the other hand try to build a shared reality with somebody where both of your realities are pretty distant from one another going in and you are trying to occupy a common land where both sets of laws and moires apply, it can be very destabilizing. The times John has felt most empathy for someone who got swept up in a political ideology are those times when he has been emotionally involved with somebody and been deeply connected with them and they were telling him that something is true that John knew wasn’t true, but his love and his desire and his desire to build a shared world caused him to doubt his own senses and his own truth. Am I wrong? Am I crazy? Maybe if I believed what the other person says, then my anxiety would go away, or something? This person you love is telling you that this thing that you are pretty sure is false. The fact that John thinks it is true is his problem, because it is what is keeping him from being in the light. If he could just get over his idea of what is true and get into this new reality and accept what they are saying is true, then his problems would go away because it feels right now at least that the only problem he has is the tension between those two realities.

Of course that is not true! You had problems before your partner arrived, but that is the kind of crazy storm within a relationship that can happen. It feels equivalent to getting swept up in a movement, where the movement is saying ”Do you feel anxious?” - ”Yes” - ”Do you feel that you are getting a raw deal?” - ”Yes!” - ”Well, all the things you used to think of as true are not! And guess what? Here is the truth!” - ”Shit, it has been UFOs all along! OMG, the jews!” It is so easy to think that your whole constellation of discomfort could be relieved if this thought revolution allowed you to just plug in a different brand of El Dopa into your receptors and: Problem solved! Politically, John is not susceptible to that, but in those few moments in his life, and there haven’t been many, when he had been closed to building a shared edifice with another person within a romantic context, he felt like he all of a sudden was in a Jim Jones situation. He really cannot surrender control over reality, not only not to another person, but also not to some shared corporation.

John feels pretty solid on reality and he has enough checks and balances internally that he can subject information to at least something of a side-light. ”Is this true? Let’s turn on that sidelight and look at it! It still seems true!” and if somebody is standing there and says that it is not true because it conflicts with their thing over there, John will go with that for a while, but if this thing over here still feels true, whether or not it conflicts with that thing, it feels like less his problem. The other person has to decide whether that thing over there is true for their own self, it is kind of not John’s business, but that is another example why he right now is not in the 25th year of a loving marriage. John doesn’t mean to equate romantic relationships with Jonestown, but those are the few times in his life where he felt both the seductive feeling of surrendering the keys and also the terror of being unmoored from his tentpole.

John heading across the country (RW103)

In 1986, John tried several different times to head off across the country. He had landed in Seattle, he didn’t have any money, and he was like ”I’m going across America”, but he had only a vague idea of how big America really was and he had no geographical sense how far it was from Seattle to Philadelphia. In Alaska they got the rest of the country just through television, seeing it as a foreign country in a way. If you get on the train in Alaska, you will wake up at the end of the train the following morning. The train just goes between two places and you can go both directions to the end in the course of a day. That was about the distance John was used to. If your dad had a plane, like John’s dad did, you could cover some ground.

John set off from Seattle a few different times. Once he jumped on a freight train with his friend Kel and they got as far as Detroit Lakes, Minnesota before they realized that this was a cold and lonely journey, they were fools and Kel didn’t like it anymore. They split up and Kel went to California instead, because he had an uncle who would give him a job. John first went to Yakima where his brother lived (See story in RW101) before he on his own headed across the country on a 1981 CB650 that he bought for $500 from a guy (See story about his motorcycle crash in RL250 and his broken speedometer in RL158).

John wanting to talk about Rajneeshpurum on The Omnibus (RW103)

John still keeps his eye out for Rajneeshy stuff and when he was putting down ideas for Omnibus with Ken Jennings a couple of months ago, it went immediately on the initial list. A show like Roadwork has huge ideas that no-one else can even come close to and Dan and John are not going to overlap with 99% Invisible while they are talking about their metaphysical arc (which was the number one tenet of the show to not do that), but The Omnibus is in a crowded space of shows where people are kind of just reading Wikipedia pages. There are a lot of really good ones, like 99% Invisible or Atlas Obscura, How Stuff Works itself has 3 shows that are doing the exact same thing all the time.

John was excited to do an episode on Rajneeshpurum, and he knows all kinds of shit about those guys, but right away The Seattle Files did a big long ”Remember When” type of thing and when John saw the previews for this show, it seemed like Rajneesh was on the tip of everybody’s tongue and he disappointedly scratched it off his list of topics, even though he has got a lot more to say about it. Dan didn’t know about this thing at all, and he always thinks about himself of being relatively familiar with most of the cults that have happened, but it turned out he was wrong and got to learn about this amazing situation that was hard to believe. Just when you think the world has nothing new to show you, you find out about Rashneeshpurum.

Time Magazine (RW103)

When John was a kid, Time Magazine was an important fixture in his week. He was looking at Time Magazine already before he could read or really understand what was happening, because Time was also full of pictures. Everybody in the country agreed on what the news was, so you could put out a magazine that was basically a digest of what had happened in that week. It was neither considered liberal nor conservative, but it was just the news condensed into a thing that was fairly dense. You couldn’t just sit down at a dentist’s office, but you had to sit down and read it, kind of like the New York Times, but with colorful pictures. John followed a lot of the events of the 1970s through Time when he was a kid. It was where he originally saw the Munich Olympics disaster, it was where he watched the 1972 6-day war and it was where he learned about a lot of the stuff he knows about the world. He watched the Nixon administration fall apart in the pages of Time magazine and he watched the last days of Vietnam, even though he did not really know what he was watching. That stuff was on the news as well, but the magazine was something John could take into his room to study. Time was John’s Walter Cronkite: If it was in Time, it was true. Not only was it true, but it was important enough to get into Time.

John saw Alice Cooper for the first time in Time Magazine, like ”Look at what is going on with the kids today!” and he found that person to be really scary. He read articles about a bunch of kids getting trampled at a concert of The Who, it was how he found about John Lennon getting shot, it was all in Time! By the time the 1980s rolled around, John was in High School and as Time would arrive he would read it from cover to cover. He wasn’t looking forward to it in the sense of ”Oh, the new Time is here!”, but it felt like part of the responsibility as a citizen. It wasn't even because he was an adult, but the stuff just came in the mail and you would sit down and digest it at your earliest convenience.

John's book about the Big Walk (RW103)

As John came back from his walk across Europe, he went to his advisor at the University of Washington with this long book that he had been writing. He had spent a lot of time in Germany and Eastern Europe and part of his thread was that all of Naziism and WWII has been completely erased from the European geography. You don’t see any svastikas anywhere, even if you are looking for them, not even on little culverts running through the forest. Somebody came out there one day with a chisel and chipped off the svastika that was on it. The towns that had been burned and blown up were all rebuilt. When John went on his walk, the Iron Curtain had been down for 10 years and it had been erased already. The wall was completely erased except in places where they couldn’t get to it. There were a couple of spots along the way where they would just leave the roads and the guard towers, because it was too hard to get to it, but otherwise you could often tell where the wall had been, because you would be walking through the forest and the trees were all 50 years old and you would come to a line in the forest where the trees were all 10 years old, which is not usually how you do logging. You realize that you just crossed the wall because where these trees are now had been nomansland.

A big part of John's thesis is that the 3rd Reich is utterly gone and Germany is a modern, progressive, socialist democracy. National Socialism is not just gone, but it was eradicated. The Germans are as liberal as anyone in the world and they are as devoted to the principles of democratic government as anybody in the world. It had only been 55 years since the end of the war. What was the war made of? You can’t just call it collective insanity! 6 million jews killed, 15 million people killed just in the camps, leaving aside the 40 million killed by Stalin. The question isn’t ”Thank God we never have to do that again!”, but the question for John is always ”How thin is the curtain between us and that?” If you can go from that to this, it can’t really be that impossible to go back from this to that. John does not have very much faith that you can establish something in 50 years that is inviolate from then on.

John has an agent in New York to publish his book, but although they had been talking for a long time, they only really formalized their relationship pretty recently. He is a wonderful guy who has been trying to get John to put his written work into a published form. He is extremely encouraging and he feels that it is close to be ready to be published, but John is the guy who hasn’t even opened his diploma and he is extremely doubtful if his book is ready to be read by anybody. It is not just insanity, because John has a pretty good sense to tell good from bad. The book is several hundred pages about John as the protagonist, but it barely has any supporting characters. It is the story of him walking from Amsterdam to Istanbul, thinking and talking aloud about everything, just like his two podcasts Roadwork and Roderick on the Line. He only has himself to bounce it off of, so he slowly goes crazy, because these thoughts are rattling around in his head and all he has is this parliament of assholes up there throwing hot coffee on one another. He was walking between 30-50 kilometers a day in places where he had no idea where he was going. He had a compass, he looked at it, it pointed South East and he went. Every day he would come to a place that wasn't on the map and he had to get around it or over it. It was an important thing for John to do and he was documenting it the whole time, because that is what he does.

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