RW128 - Episode 128

This week Dan and John talk about:

Bonus-content for Patreon supporters:

The show title refers to the fact that this is the 128th episode of the show. It has not been referenced during the show and it seems as if Dan couldn't come up with a title because of the very serious topics.

John is opening the show in a neat voice, one of the many voices in his file folder of voices. He is no longer congested, but it is all a put-on in the manner of the voice. The voice is a little bit Rod Serling, but not Clint Eastwood, or Ace Ventura Pet Detective. Dan is not sure if he likes it.

Not a lot is new. The same as usual!

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

John trying to sell his GMC RV (RW128)

John is trying to sell his GMC RV and is dealing with a lot of 90-year olds. He has marked the price down quite considerably from where he started. Back when it was fully priced he had considered driving it down to the buyer, but now he reduced the price to the point that he is less and less interested in dealing with the whole Craigslist tire-kicker people. He gets a lot of responses from people who get out there and say that this and that needs replaced, but the RV is 43 years old and it is $8000. If you want something that doesn’t need anything replaced, go and buy something that was made in 1999 or 2005. You can find those vehicles just as easily, but this is an enthusiast vehicle and it is going to need some things fixed, but that is apparently not the game on Craigslist.

John doesn’t want to sell it to someone where he doesn’t feel that it is the right truck for them. He gets these 87 year-old guys, their wife just died, and they are selling everything and they want to get an RV and drive across America on one last hurrah and see their grandkids. They come and kick the tires, but what they want is an RV built on a Ford drivetrain from the last 15 years with a microwave in it that you can park it in a Walmart. They don’t want this, but this is a specialty thing for people who want to have a weird, aesthetically cool, fun life.

Those guys just want to be a turtle and they need a rig, so why are they looking at this? Those people are not poor either, but they are penny-pinchers. If John had no scruples, he would be on the hard-sell with them, like ”This is the one for you man! You are going to love running this! Your grandkids are going to love this!”, but what he tells them is to pick up a copy of the RV trader and find a thing that is 19 feet (6m) long and has one bed in it, because that is all they need. It is one of the many things that are frustrating John right now. He is never un-frustrated, which is a bad place to stay for too long!

Dan’s recording setup (RW128)

A lot of the time when John is ready to record, he will message Dan in the Skype app, but Dan will not see that because of the way he is set up from the old days. A billion years ago he did a lot of shows with multiple guests at the same time, panel shows with at least one or two and up to six other people on a show. He used a mixer before he upgraded to an Apollo and he would connect all the inputs as if the people were right there in the studio. Instead of having human beings talking into the microphones and plugging them into the mixer, he had ancient Mac Minis he got second hand and he plugged the audio in and out from the mixer into each of those. For each guest who wasn’t physically here, Dan would run Skype on one of these dedicated Mac Minis.

Dan connects to those machines remotely, launches Skype, makes the connection and he will hear John in his headphone and microphone, but nothing is going on on the local computer in front of him. Only when he remotes to those machines he can see the screens in a window on his main computer. When John messages Dan in Skype, he doesn’t see or hear that unless he happens to have already connected to that machine, whereas John is probably running Skype like a normal human. There is probably not a huge advantage doing it the way Dan is still doing it except that the Apollo has those really great plug-ins built into it and Dan can do real-time compression, noise gate and EQ on John in real time, which saves a ton of time in post-production.

John does not record his end and send it to Dan, but Dan records everything. John does 4 podcasts now and he records two of them locally and two of them over Skype. A long time ago people seemed really concerned about audio quality in podcasting, but Merlin and John bucked that trend pretty hard and Merlin just recorded John on Skype. There are still people who are bothered by the sound quality, but Dan finds it usually pretty good. On a very rare occasion there might be some artifact and there have only been a couple times when Dan had to actually edit a part out or where some content got missed, but it has happened.

There is a lot less dynamic range over Skype than if John would record it and send Dan his recording. John certainly could start doing it now that he is set up to do it, although it is not even really an extra step beyond it just being an extra step. To Dan it doesn’t matter if he had to combine the recordings, but maybe they should release the good version to the Patreon supporters? Dan could intentionally lower the quality of the non-Patreon version to 50k with artifacts added and they would both sound like they were talking into a tin can for those who really miss the 1930s and 1940s.

Dan’s granddad listening to the radio in a jar (RW128)

Dan’s granddad had a crystal radio and they would put the speaker into a jar which would help amplify the sound. In the evenings they would gather around the jar as a family and listen to the radio (Dan told that story also in RW106). Both John’s mother and father sat around the radio at night with their fathers, but Dan’s people are from Pennsylvania and they did things differently up in the Appalachians. Maybe they couldn’t afford an actual radio with a real speaker.

It is weird to have seen the birth of radio, automobiles, computers, the Internet, all of this stuff that we have now in a single lifetime! Dan's and John's kids are born in a time where iPhones, iPads and the presence of the internet is ubiquitous. The idea of a world without it seems bizarre to them. How did you watch stuff on TV if you couldn’t just pick the thing you wanted? They just watched whatever they were lucky enough that came on the TV until they eventually got a VCR, then they could kind of choose.

The march of technology (RW128)

(this segment starts at 17:54 after the first ad-read)

John’s dad was about 85 years old when he moved into an assisted living facility where everybody else was also in their 80s and 90s. He was born in 1921 and there were Model Ts, airplanes and telephones, but there were also still a lot of horses on the roads and most kids did not go all the way through High School. It was the roaring 20s before the stock market collapsed and before the depression.

Changes happening during 1920-1965 and 1965-2005

John asked his dad to go around the old folks home and ask everybody: If you could divide your 85 year old lives in half, which half saw the most change? Was it from 1920 to 1965 or from 1965 to 2005? It seemed like during the first half all the big technology was invented, from biplanes to big jets, they harnessed the atom, they were flying into space by that point, they had computers, they had interstate highways, there was the civil rights movement, they had fought a giant world war, it was a whole different world with washing machines in the house and everybody had a toaster, which are small things that changed the quality of life.

From 1965 to the present, other than iPads we haven’t really moved the ball forward that much. They made it to the moon in a few short years, but that has pretty much been it, although they had already been sending stuff up there and were just doing the same thing slightly better. By 1965 they had already invented the fastest plane and flown it the fastest, you can take a car from 1965 and drive it on the road today while you couldn’t really do that with a Model T. The toasters are the same, light bulbs are the same, and the front facing side of technology is really not that much different. The changes between 1965 and are almost 100% social. The way people interacted in 1965 vs 1920 wasn’t really that different. If you were gay in 1920 or 1965, there wasn’t any more visibility. If you were black in America, you were still experiencing the same institutionalized prejudices without redress and so forth. Society was stratified in the same way.

During the last 50+ years, the world has changed as dramatically and globally: Life expectancy, freedom from disease, freedom from hunger, an explosion of new rights and new consciousnesses. There has been tons of social change in a very short period of time that was super-compressed compared to before. It was not because of the Internet, but because of the technology in the 40 years prior to that. The airplane did more to level the social playing field in the world than almost anything else. Prior to the airplane, if you lived in a major American city, how many people from India would you see in a typical day? The answer is none! Every once in a while you would see someone who was there as a diplomat.

John's dad came back after having quizzed everybody in the old folks home and they all felt like the second half from 1965 to 2005 was the bigger change. John was surprised by that, because from biplanes to the moon seemed like a pretty startling acceleration, but in 1965 everybody still wore a suit to work, the country club still didn’t accept jews, and if you were out in the day in the city most of the people you met were white and if they were black they were working in a different strata of jobs. For them that second transition was astonishing.

John asked his mom the same question. She loves seeing girls of different races walking together, holding hands, talking, clearly friends, because when she was a young adult woman that was just impossible. You could not have had a group of 4 girls of different races who were all friends, it would not have ever occurred. That is the progress for her! For those young girls it doesn’t even enter into their friendship calculation. It works all the way to women in their 30s, but if they are older than that it is much rarer that people have that many friends of different races.

The time John first met someone from Vietnam

John remembers the first time he met a Vietnamese person when he was in college in 1988. It was exotic: ”Wow! All the way from Vietnam?” Even though they had airplanes before, they had been at war with Vietnam and had only just started to have a diplomatic opening. There were plenty of people from Vietnam in America that had emigrated after the war, but they were living in concentrated communities in Louisiana or Texas.

John had never met someone from Vietnam before! The airplane and the labor-saving technologies made a lot more people wealthy enough to travel. Persians decided to go to Paris and see what was going on. Then there was the post-war United Nations one world mentality. John doesn’t think any of their parents who would be old enough to have them would have walked down the streets in their 20s in an American city and seen anywhere near the diversity of people that there is now.

The internet is rewriting history

The Internet is serving to erase that progress in people’s minds. Younger people who didn’t live pre-internet can only see the world through the aperture of the Internet which has decided that we have made no progress, the world is just as bad as it ever was, no-one prior to today has ever had any success in achieving a better world, there was no feminism before today, there was no civil rights movement, and we are all still living in the exact same prison than we were living in 1920 until the heroic new generation came to save us all.

That is the most disappointing thing about the Internet: It has rewritten recent history, because every time someone encounters an injustice now, they put it up on a big billboard for all to see and for all of us to wring our hands about. There is no context for how far we have come, how proud we should be, and how much progress has been made in how short a time.

Dan was talking to somebody recently who said that right now is the most volatile and turmoil and most things are changing and happening in the history of the country or the history of the world. It didn’t really ring true to him, because in WWII there was a lot happening. How much of it is just that we are more and more aware of what is going on more immediately?

So many things happened in the 1960s and 1970s

John was just looking at the events of the spring of 1965 and pulled a couple of things out (he did this for the intro of FF41). In February Malcolm X was assassinated. In March both the first bombs of the Vietnam war fell and the first ground troops arrived in Vietnam, Martin Luther King marched on Selma, the fist cosmonaut to ever walk in space, the first war between India and Pakistan began, Gemini 3 was launched. In April West Germany and Israel established diplomatic relations for the first time, US troops occupied the Dominican Republic to suppress a coup. In May Muhammad Ali fought Sonny Liston. In June I can get no satisfaction was released, the Beatles played at Shea Stadium, and this is just within a few months in 1965. If you looked at same 5-month period in 1968, it would blow you mind what world-historical events happened during that period.

In the 1960s and 1970s George Wallace ran for president of the USA on an openly white suprematist ticket. There were energy crises in the 1970s and people thought gasoline might soon be $10 a gallon. There were lines of cars stretching for miles outside of gas stations that had no gas. There were famines where millions of people were dying of starvation while the world stood by and watched and it didn’t seem there was any solution or that there would ever be a solution. We had entered into a world where every year millions would die of famine. Somewhere in there in 1965 the first Watts Riots occurred and cities were literally burning. There were revolutions in the streets, cops fighting citizens with dogs and fire hoses, people setting cities on fire, and Detroit burned at that time.

We think it is bad now, but it has been much worse before

It seems to us now that our president and his policies are the craziest things that have ever happened, but they are not at all. During the Reagan administration the government was waging illegal secret wars and was funding them by selling drugs. Those were respectable people and those were respectable times! Our situation right now is crazy, but also overwrought. What Dan’s friend should have said is that there has never been a time in the entire human history where there has been more equality, less violence, less starvation and less war. There has never been a time in human history where life expectancy has been greater across the world, where there was a larger global middle class, where there was as much clean water and less infant death. There has never been less rape than there is now. There is less police brutality and less racism than ever before, both globally and in the United States.

If you listen to the news and didn’t think for yourself for one second, you would think that none of those things are true. If you just went on Twitter you would think we were living in the most racist unequal sexist awful time in history, but it isn’t true, it is just that we see it now and we didn’t see it before. We comment on it now and we didn’t comment on it before. What we don’t revel in is that it has never been better. We are doing a good job! We, the 21st century Americans and our parents, the 20th century Americans, have done amazing work in advancing the cause of human rights. Why would we deny ourselves the opportunity to celebrate it?

To say that there is so much work left to do is reasonable, but to say none of the work we have done up till now matters and it is all for shit because right now there still exists inequality is to misunderstand history, to create a culture of hysteria and panic. If you were a Russian agent you could do no better than to sow within the American Left that we had done nothing and that times were as bad as they had ever been. You couldn’t be a better agent of chaos than to take away our triumph.

Russian propaganda provoking both the right and the left

The Soviets always situated themselves against the United States as a classless and less racist society. Their propaganda posters of that period always showed people from around the world, because they were trying to influence politics in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. There would always be 10 faces on the poster with a representative face from each continent. It was their counter to the American civil rights problems of the 1960s and 1970s: "Look, over here in the global communist revolution everyone is equal and there is no racism!" The Russians are as racist as people can be, but they wanted revolutionaries of Southern Africa or Central America to think: ”Do we want to side with the United States where they are spraying their own citizens with water hoses or do we want to go with this bucolic picture of all the world’s races living together in a melting pot?”

Now history has shaken out that the global proletarian revolution didn’t really produce a world of Unity and Equality any more than the capitalist rapaciousness and the awkward violent American experiment. We think about Russian bots on Facebook getting Trump people all riled up with fake news, but they are fake-newsing the shit out of the Left, too, the Left just doesn’t recognize it while the right is really easy to provoke. You post a thing on Facebook saying that those trans-people want to steal our bathrooms and make our kids look at their penises and the little old ladies in Texarkana are like ”No!” We think they are easy to manipulate.

There is no armed revolution, things are going well

There are many hourly provocations of the left that aren’t as much based on misinformation, but they are colored in the way Dan’s friend was saying: "There has never been a worse time than now. Take to the streets! This is our moment to start an armed revolution against the oppressive white capitalism!" That is just as much a provocation, but not coming organically from the way people think, but it is seeded in the culture. People love to pick those banners up, run through the streets, and ”Look what I read!”

There are calls for armed revolution on the left that go all the way to Nazi punching. John once got in a big argument with people about that (They talked about that in RW54) and he reads it all the time from reasonable middle-aged left-leaning people: ”Punch a nazi!” It just makes him laugh and laugh how soft-minded that stuff is! There is no armed revolution in the United States that benefits anyone but the most fascist. People who honestly think that the Left is going to rise up and overthrow Western capitalism through armed struggle and impose equality by force have not read enough books. It is laughable and it is premised on false premises.

Things are going good and Trump is a bump in the road. A lot of people on the Internet say that John can afford to say that because he is a middle-aged white guy, but that is a dumb thing to say: Everyone’s lives are better now than they were. If you are 20 years old, no matter your orientation, no matter what type of person you are or what you aspire to, you have more opportunity, more freedom, and more justice now than if you would have been born 20 years ago or 40 years ago or 1000 years ago.

Progress isn’t slowing! This conservative revolution is a concern and it should be and we should talk about it, but not in this strange language we have now where everything is completely black & white. There is no way to talk about the 50% of the United States that feels differently from you without denouncing them and then be forced to denounce Hitler at the same time, like ”Which side are you on? Do you support Hitler?” Not being able to say that things never have been better without being accused of being Hitler is very frustrating.

Postmodernism and post-structuralism

Postmodernism or post-structuralism is a theory of the world based on the idea that texts, like books, movies or language in general, create reality and that structures buried in language build realities. Those structures can and for a long time did go completely unexamined. In examining them you realize that things are set up a certain way. The SAT-test is set up to prefer people who went to suburban High Schools. Language creates these realities and you tenter into a situation where there is no objective reality.

When it was first introduced, this theory was shocking, novel, intellectually challenging and exciting because it felt like part of a moment in the 20th century where everything was possible, where we were discarding the old order across both economically, politically and in a lot of different ways. This literally theory seemed extremely exciting to a culture of intellectuals because all of a sudden this world of books, semiotics and philosophy had political power and we could use it to attack the structures of power effectively, not just critique them. There was an active component of post-structuralism, a new way of thinking and seeing.

That theory disseminated through everything on the intellectual Left. There was no thing that couldn’t be critiqued. It was philosophically and then also practically connected to Marxism. What we forgot somewhere along the way was that it was a theory. When you learn it in the university the description of it actually contains the term ”theory”, but we forgot that the word ”theory” has a meaning that is different from the word "proof".

The framework of post-structuralism allows an awful lot of permutations. You can apply the basic structure of that theory to a lot of things across the board: To the way language is used, to the way power is structured, and to interpersonal relationships or big structural relationships. We are now living in a world where that theory invisibly undergirds a lot of our political movements. Most people haven’t studied post-structuralism or postmodernism, most people haven’t read those books and they don’t know what those books were critiquing in the first place.

The power of that moment in the 1960s and the 1970s was that all the academics knew what had come before. They had read the books and understood the language of structuralism enough to be able to have a post-structuralism. This response, this counter that was so exciting! Along the way until the world we live in today we were excluded from what came before because it was determined that we had entered into a new world and the stuff before was somewhat heretical. It influences us everywhere in our culture!

Tearing down confederate monuments

The surface-logic of wanting to tear down confederate monuments defines them as racist things that shouldn’t be in the public square of this now very diverse town which is aspiring to have equality between people. We shouldn’t have a statue in the middle of the town that is of a very divisive character or that is very exclusionary. That is all the argument you need, but there is all this other argument beneath it about the power of representation, the power of images, and the fact that the presence of the statue disempowers people. It is a theory, but we accept it at face value!

We could also walk past this statue every day, tip our hat sarcastically at it and go: ”Hey, how you like us now? Fuck you!” and get on with our day. You could make a case that leaving the statue up was good for people because it gave them a place to piss. You could come up with half a dozen different theories about what the presence of that statue does and what it communicates, but we live in a world where our theories have led us to conclude that it is a symbol of ongoing oppression, even when that is a very difficult theory to prove.

You can say anecdotally that there is still oppression and these statues are still here and our theory is that if we would take them down there would be less oppression because we wouldn't have this statue-endorsed symbol of racial inequality anymore and we would have less inequality in the aftermath of taking this statue down. That is the premise and on the power of images and the same is true for the world that is premised on the power of words.

The power of words we don't use anymore

There are theories about bullying and about words we don’t use now, but we decided really only during the last 10 years that there was going to be a list of words that were no longer usable and that list keeps growing. Those words have so much intrinsic power to oppress or to exclude, bad words that are all just words and in some cases just descriptive words or words that took on a meaning. We are forbidding an entire word because it took on a meaning somewhere along the lines, but all of that is predicated on accepting a theory of language and of the world-making power of words. If you speak a certain way or say certain words, and if language is allowed to be used in certain ways, it isn’t the laws or the policies at work that create inequality, but it is those words that seep in and generate unequal worlds.

There is a culture of people who are on-guard looking for offense all the time. They are not just sensitive or getting their feelings hurt, but they are on guard for language which is creating a world of inequality and they see themselves as combatting those worlds, stopping those situations before they take root or pointing at them and calling them out and saying ”There it is again!” You just called me darling, which is a dismissive, diminutive way to describe me and it is part of a systemic attempt to disempower women who stand up for themselves at work.

It all makes sense to us because we have all been educated within that theoretical system and it has now become our lingua franca where there is no counter-argument to that theory other than the one you see coming from people who are like ”What? I was just saying darling because I was being friendly. That is just how we talk!”, but the Left is ”Boo! That is exactly the sort of ignorant and oppressive language-using!”

There are two sides to it: One side is hyper-attuned to a theoretical approach to how the world is built and the other side is just not. They are not thinking that way, they don’t have that theory, they didn’t come up in that culture and they are just bumbling along. That is why you see so many Trump-supporters characterize themselves as just fun normal people who like to have barbecues and be normal Americans.

They are not necessarily comfortable within a white supremacist culture or whatever it is that the Left would jump to describe it as, but they don’t even understand what the Left is talking about! All they said was this simple thing and people are jumping down their throats all the time. They don’t have a background for feeling the power and universe-building capability of that language. Unfortunately the Left doesn't have a very good understanding of why they are doing it either. They understand the system and the technology of using it to attempt to make the world better.

The guys in MBMBAM were trying to figure out on their D&D podcast what their characters were going to be. One of them wanted a certain character, but he was afraid to do it wrong and therefore he made this character have green skin which was going to save him from a wave of condemnation from the Internet if he choose the ethnicity for his D&D character wrong. They made the character green and were immediately dumped on by thousands of people who said that green is symbolic of jews and it is the color of Pepe. There wasn’t a way to have a green character without lots of people feeling very strongly that this character was creating an unsafe world.

Should Austin change its name?

Dan tries to be respectful of people’s opinions, but things like that are just confusing to him! You can’t ever do something right! A report from Austin’s equity office mentioned a number of streets, institutions or other things were ”within the spirit of the resolution representing segregation, racism or slavery”, like Littlefield Street, Tom Green Street, Dixy Drive, Confederate Avenue, Plantation Road, Barton Springs and they proposed changing the names of some of these streets.

Some things on this list were secondary considerations that we might want to think about, like Austin itself, because the city is named after Stephen Austin, the father of Texas. Apparently back in the olden times when Texas was Texac (pronounced Tehas) and Mexico wanted to ban slavery in the province of Texac he said that he was opposed to that because if you free the slaves, they would become ”vagabonds and a nuisance and a menace” Dan doesn’t know what else he did other than that comment that makes people think he was pro-slavery. Maybe he had a lifetime of pro-slavery, but this is the quote they always refer to in every article about this topic. They are saying we should consider changing the name of Austin because it was named after Stephen Austin who made this comment.

Dan has been living in Austin for over 7 years. He knew the city was named after Mr. Austin, but he didn’t know that he had said that. At some point, can’t things ever take on a different meaning? Can Austin not have that meaning to some people or once something like that has happened, it is forever tarnished, that is what it means now, and once people learn that a change has to be made? Dan thinks that would be an overreaction.

When Dan grew up, everything was offensive to everybody eventually. Dan’s grandfather was not allowed to get a masters or doctors degree because he was Jewish. He would apply to the programs and they would reject him. He continued to get education but he couldn’t go to that level. When he was working for the government doing the tank armor he lead the group and he was one of the most respected scientists in his department, but he couldn’t get an advanced degree because they would simply say ”No!” He didn’t let that stop him from being a great scientist and from having an incredibly successful career including getting presidential medals and other things. He didn’t like it and it bothered him quite a bit.

The reason Dan mentions it is that at some point we have to be able to look at things and say that this was named during a different time. Does that mean we have to change the name and remove the statue because that person wasn’t 100% perfect and maybe had a bad perspective, does that wash away anything good they might have done? Then you can bring up the experiments the Nazis did during the Holocaust: Can we use the information that came from that? These are hard question!

There are people who are probably upset about it right now! Dan does want to sensitive to these people, but he also doesn’t think it is necessary to change the name of Austin because of one comment that their founder made. Dan doesn’t understand the context of that comment and what his overall believes have been. Was he a horrible person or a good person? He is the father of Texas! There would be no Texas without him! Is that good or bad? Texas was stolen from Mexico and maybe there should be no Texas? Where does it stop? Do we just call the streets A,B,C or numbers? Street 1 and Street 2? Do we call towns as Town 175, but then the 5 has significance to people and we have to rename it to 177 because everyone can agree that 7 is the lucky number, except for people for whom it is nota and who petition to change it.

Making the leap from a theory to a political system

There have always been intellectual fashions. Postmodernism and post-structuralism are not inaccurate or bad. Marxism was a great theory of economics because it was about human interaction and, like a lot of great theories, it was descriptive. Before Marx and Engels we thought about the way people exchanged labor for money in a certain way. They came along and nothing in the world had changed, but by virtue of their description we understood the dynamic better and, like a lot of descriptions, it was really good up to a point. It described something in a new and insightful way.

As soon as that converts to a theory of a political system, you start to encounter problems because every political system talks about people in the aggregate, like ”The workers” or ”The bankers”. It is a description that is meant to be insightful, like ”The workers do this and the owners do this and this is the dynamic behind that relationship”, and you go ”Right!” If you take it the next step and say that therefore the workers need to do this to counter the owners who are going to be doing this and the result of that is going to be a better world, you have made quite a few big leaps. You just said that the workers are a cohesive group that is capable of acting as a group or as an entity, but the biggest jump is ”That is going to create a better world” You described an inequality, but to leap ahead and say that you have a solution to it and that the description of it suggests the solution is where theory crashes into politics and starts to be a wobbly wagon.

In the case of Marxism we have spent 150 years trying to figure out how we can implement this insight to make a better world and there have been some pretty dramatically bad attempts. We are now living in a world where post-structuralism and postmodernism were descriptive, fascinating and really insightful and they changed the world, but as soon as it started to get applied as ”Now what we need to do is…” we take the insights and the suggestion of these insights to take the following action. This happened a lot in universities and was the natural ground for action. The first things that were changed were curricula. We didn’t study books the same way and pretty soon after that we didn’t study the same books. It was initially a revolution that happened in universities and it produced generations of smart people who went to college and were the smarts at their college.

Literary theory vs theory of evolution

John Hodgman studied literary theory at Yale when Yale was a hot bed of precisely this kind of thinking. He is not somebody who studied literature at the university of Arizona, but he is seeped in some fundamental aspects of this world. A lot of people we know are, but the way it was taught at universities was not ”Here is a theory and here are some other theories”, teaching some controversy like ”Maybe the world was created in seven days or maybe there is evolution!”

Literary theory is now the theory of evolution and any counter-theory or other reading of history is essentially creationism, that is how dismissive we are of it. Any perception of dynamic between people that doesn’t have a Marxist reading at its core is creationism or an older theory and history came to an end at a certain point when we realized the truth of all the things. Now we just need to apply it and bring all the dumbs up to speed. It is a culture-wide fashion that is now going on its 6th decade and all of the smart people in our culture were educated under that way of thinking, all the journalists, all the college professors, all the writers. Even if you weren’t directly educated that way, you were within that culture.

John studied the comparative history of ideas in college and he started with the Bible, Plato and Homer and worked his way through Augustin, Descartes and Hegel, the Declaration of Independence through to Nietzsche and Derrida, the whole survey of it and he studied it in a way that suggested that each thing of its time prepared the ground for the next thing and was evolutionary. A lot of Socrates leapfrogged and threaded through all of history. You can read Socrates now and still be amazed by it! Some of those philosophies were dead ends, wandered off and burned out, but in the main there is an evolutionary thread through history.

This is not the end of history

It is really hard not to situate ourselves as the end of history and to not think that we have a complete understanding and all of our struggles are just revolutionary ones where we need to enforce our way of thinking, our finally-realized understanding of the world. We are just in the middle of something and we don’t know what is going to come next, what is the next fashion and what happens next. John suspects it will be corrective.

There are brilliant writers, thinkers and people who are ”Wait a minute!”, which is how all things like this come to pass: People say ”Wait a minute! I have been thinking!” and all the conventional wisdom seems wrong to them now that they have had this new insight, whatever it will be. John has a suspicion of what it is and it will again feel like a new liberation when it happens. What we are being liberated from may not be what we think we need to be liberated from. Nobody knows what the next big surprise is going to be philosophically and whether it will be economic, social or what.

John is not too bent out of shape whether or not they want to change the streets in Austin or change the name of Austin to Medgar Evers Town, because we are just in the middle of somewhere. Paris has been called Paris for hundreds of years, but if Columbus, Ohio ends up being called Tecumseh, Ohio it would be more of a monument to our time as any statue we could erect and it may end up being our legacy. Our statues may be the plinths of the statues we tore down. It will be how we will be remembered by people in the future who may return the name of Austin to Austin. Stalingrad and Leningrad are not called like that now and haven't been called like that before, but they spent a long time like that in the middle. Things like this do happen and you leave your mark as best you can.


John doesn’t think that post-structuralism and postmodernism are very useful as a descriptor anymore. They have become garbled and what was interesting about the theory was never intended to be a political system. It was never intended to be a way of governing nations, but it was reactive like a lot of theories are. It looked at the thing that came before and it judged it according to a new principle, but it wasn’t necessarily creative and that is the world we are living in now: We are judging everything, but the system we use to judge is not creative and doesn’t make something new to take the place of the old. It just wants to dismantle the old and it presumes naively that dismantling the old is enough to allow something new and beautiful to flower. That is not true and that is what is so scary about the idea of a leftist revolution.

There is an awful lot of talk about tearing down the racist, classist, sexist status quo and a lot of that talk plays up all the things that are the worst about our world, but it gives no credence to the fact that all of these systems are actively engaged in change and have been for hundreds of years. The American experiment is largely succeeding and there is no place in the world that has the rights and freedoms that they have there, even with Trump and his minions banging at the gates. Nothing can erase the progress we have made!

In the short term there can be new unenforceable laws that have to wend their way through the courts, but both sides feel that way about the other’s laws. In the main there has never been a better system and the idea that we need to tear that system down and burn it is usually not accompanied with a very clearly articulated better plan. It is always based on the idea that if you tear it down, what comes in its place will be better.

If you eliminate the police, then man’s better nature will protect us. It is really the police that are the problem and crime is a product of police brutality rather than something that we need police for. Every time John reads someone on the Internet who says that we are living in a culture that is so completely bankrupt that the only thing left to do is to destroy it, he never sees their follow-up tweet where they have a new declaration of independence and a new constitution that sets up a different system. You can’t just put a link to the Democratic Socialists at the end of that tweet and feel like that is sufficient to explain why we would destroy our world and replace it with what? Just the people, the workers? That is not just naive, but it is insufficient!


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