RW173 - Shibboleth

This week, Dan and John talk about

The show title refers to a word John uses in the episode (look it up!)

Dan was reading John’s tweets and understood it was not a good day for John, but John disagrees, it is Thursday January 2nd and today was wonderful so far and nothing has really happened yet.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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.

Dan running out of cups (RW173)

Dan was going to make you some tea, but there are no clean mugs and no paper cups anymore. John thinks we should each have just one cup and one spoon. Back in Dan’s college time he was in an apartment he had one fork, knife, and spoon, one plate, and one bowl and he would wash them and put them in the little strainer and the next day they were there so he just kept using those. A whole year went by that way! It is the road warrior aesthetic, you can't be weighed down with a bunch of cutlery, you just have one! We all need to pare down and it will happen when the streets burn and the sky rains blood. You will be lucky to carry one spoon, carved out of the shin bones of your enemies.

John being very active on Twitter again because he loves writing (RW173)

John had said he doesn’t use Twitter anymore and then all of a sudden John Roderick’s Twitter account is talking all about New Year's and Dan thought it was very moving and he could sympathize with a lot of what John said, but he wanted to save it for the show. This is a tweet storm, except these days John has figured out how to push a little plus button and make it into a thread. John is confused about his levels of engagement on Twitter and people's responses to the things he writes. He probably should be ready to field a bunch of replies or responses and then there are 50 people who or reliably engaging with him who are his friends or community of people, a lot of them John never replies to, but he reads their thing and goes: ”Oh yeah, that is something that Dave would say!”

There are threads retweeted in John’s feed that have 20.000 faves and it is just some person going down some list of things and John looks at their own profile and they got 4000 followers, but somehow this connected with people, which keeps him believing that there are ways to write something and have it connect with people in a way. In all the years he has never written something that went very much further than his little world. Ken Jennings puts a grocery list on there and obviously he has a lot more followers, but he gets 20.000 retweets while John’s engagement stays in the low hundreds, pretty much.

Yet, John still goes on there, expecting to have interesting conversations. It is part of John’s 30.000 rule where there has always been a strange almost inexplicable cap on the amount of engagement he is ever going to receive for something that he puts out in the world. Maybe there is something about him that is off-putting. For example, John doesn’t like Penn Jillette, he never liked him, but he likes Penn & Teller and he will watch Penn & Teller do a comedy act, but he doesn’t like Penn Jillette for a variety or reason: his voice, the way he looks, the way he acts, and it keeps John from seeking out Penn & Teller.

With MythBusters there are plenty of people who identify with one or the other person, and whatever it is, some combination of the way John looks, the way he talks, the feeling he gives off… he can't possibly know that, but the only way he thinks that is, that he finds himself off-putting, which is one of the reasons he doesn't listen to the things that he makes, he is not necessarily one of his fans.

John doesn't blog or microblog, but he does express himself through writing and he doesn't do it very often now except in the form of an angry reply. So often the long paragraphs that he writes in life are responses to Facebook posts or reply letters to someone. He can put together a three-paragraph letter that burns the hair off of your eyebrows about almost any topic: ”Just come at me the wrong way and I will leave scorched earth!”, but seriously John likes to write funny essays, basically, that is his format. He can sit and write 1000-word essay and he enjoys it and sometimes he needs to write an essay, but he doesn’t have a real venue for it right now.

He has written a couple of Facebook threads, 15 different tweets lined up, and he likes the discipline of it, like he used to like the discipline of early Twitter because each one of those modules has to really stand on its own and they each have to work as a single tweet. John wouldn't do a thread where each one left you hanging and you needed to keep reading. He wants each one to just be a discrete thought and they have to tell a story together. How many people listen to this program and don't go on Twitter? It is some amount!

John has never had a good New Year (RW173)

John was sitting there on New Year's Day, thinking about: ”One more lame New Year in the rearview mirror!” and he doesn't know why he would do this to himself on New Year's Day, but reflecting back on New Year's past he cannot think of a good one. When he was a young teenager they used to on New Year's Eve have what was called the torchlight parade where a group of mighty mites and young skiers would take the ski lift up to the top of the mountain. At their ski resort they had night skiing, the mountain was covered with lights and you could ski until 9:00-10:00pm, which was some of the best times.

They would go up to the top of the mountain and they would shut off all the lights and they tied highway flares to the ends of their ski poles and they would ski down in a long snaking chain of kids with these torches on their poles and everyone down in the valley could look up and see this snaking line of a red fire come down the mountain. Those highway flares last 20 minutes! When you were younger you were just trying to stay in line behind all these other kids because you are in the dark, the terrain is visible, but you are in this modified snow plow, it was really challenging when you are eight years old. By the time you are 13 year you are aging out of it, it was a thing just for kids to do.

But after those New Year's Eves, as soon as there was any expectation that maybe he would have a significant kiss, after that there was never a good one, but he has 9 that he can point to and go: ”Well, that was terrible!” and in putting those together, in reviewing an adult life, and go like: ”Wow, really? Nine that were bad? No, nine that were really terrible, beyond bad!” This isn't John’s holiday and that has to be true for others and a lot of what motivates John’s desire to engage is that he wonders if him talking about it would help anybody. It helps him when he reads somebody’s essay about a thing and go: ”Oh yeah, thank you! I didn't even realize I was suffering in silence over here until I read somebody else reflect on it!” It is nice to have someone miserate about something and then allow you to commiserate with them.

Maybe that is one of the defining qualities of the stuff that John has made. It might be the unifying principle of the music he has written, the essays he has written and the podcasts he does: It is all in the voice of someone who has suffered or not succeeded, but has managed anyway not just to suffer through, but managed to figure out a way to have a good time or figure out a way to at least have learned something, in spite of the fact that he has never really scored a touchdown in the whole of his life.

That voice is really apparent in John’s music, there is no song where the narrator triumphs, there is no song that believes in love. There is no indication that anyone believes in love or rather the expectation that love makes you better or wins in the end. The songs all believe in love in the sense they believe it exists and is worthy of pursuing, but no-one ever finds it or feels it save them.

There is so much music out there where love saves you and John knows the people who write the music, they don't believe that, that is not their experience, but it is the common thread and people love to consume that stuff, they love to listen to music where love saves them, and John has no idea why because he doesn't believe it is true for them either. Maybe the rare person.

John is not sure why some humans want that. Nobody picks up a novel where love triumphs in the end, or those aren't the good ones, but they want that in music. Everyone always dies at the end of novels. The books that Dan and his kids read always have happy endings and love wins in those. The Pendergraph Sisters or the Berenstain Bears. Maybe Huck Finn things work out in the end, Tom Sawyer things work out in the end. The Cave. When you move beyond young adult stuff… One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest: super happy ending there, love wins, the chief gets out and he keeps moving. We don't see what happens, but you presume he found his lady.

John does like playing with words, he likes being candid or revealing. He likes to say things that might embarrass somebody else or say things that no-one would think to say because there are too many layers of embarrassment between whatever happened to them and the desire to talk about it. John is somebody who throughout most of his life his closest friends have always been women and that has really complicated his life. He has a lot of guy friends, they just are all stacked up like cordwood, but he doesn't talk to them, it would be impossible to for the most part because men don't know how to talk really or to go there.

John doesn't want to have those conversations with men where it is all braggadocio and he doesn’t need any action items, he doesn’t need anybody to tell him what he needed to do, especially not the Ding Dongs that he knows. What are they going to tell him? A lot of them are very close, but John doesn’t share with them, well a little bit, that is a familiar feeling. John had a lot of female friends be closest friends, but of course those relationships are fraught with expectation, not just the ones that had romantic possibilities swirling around them, but also just that women are full of expectation in a way that men aren't. Even the ones that are purely platonic from the beginning and never had any potential, there is just expectation baked in and John does poorly with expectation.

There are things that John wishes that there were men who could talk about them, that he had a small intimate group, some bunch of hippies that all went through a Robert Bly phase or something and banged on a drum, but the thing is John hates those people. The problem is that a man who is in touch with his feelings is one of the worst things in life. They are still a man, they still want to tell you how to fix your problem. That makes John’s sister so annoying, she has the qualities of both men and women. She is very in touch with her feelings and she wants to tell you what you need to do.

John writes, he puts it down, and then it is almost like having talked about it with somebody because he senses that it is going to go out and hopefully find who it needs to find, and that is what is frustrating about that kind of lack of engagement from the larger world. People read them but they don't send them further afield. Maybe Twitter isn't the place. John just hopes that it finds a common listener, and that is why he is so desperate to have people not reply with that ginned-up sympathy that qualifies for engagement these days, where people are like: ”Sorry for your loss!” - ”Fuck you! You are not sorry for my loss or if you are that is not the appropriate response!”

What people need is just to be seen and that is all John needs. The correct response is to retweet it and think about it, not reply at all. He wants to look down and see that he had written something that had even 1000 retweets instead of 100 and then no replies, that would be better than having 20 people say: ”Sorry for your loss!” Even 20 people going: ”Hey man, thanks!”, just to be seen. John said at the end of that tweet storm: ”This is just meant as a fist-bump, putting my fist out there and saying: If you needed a fist-bump, here it is!”

The other John likes about that and one of the things he is taking into consideration when writing an essay like that is that he also wants it to be artful, he wants it to feel like that quality of good writing where there is more that is not there than that is there. John refers to whole universes and doesn’t bother to explain them. You figure it out or you don't! That is what always made his lyrics somewhat impenetrable and not suited or not targeting a widespread audience because they are full of images and vignettes that are taken from real and specific moments that aren't clear what they mean.

You have to spend time with them, you have to approach them through your emotions rather than through your mind, you have to approach them with a literary mind, which isn't to say that his lyrics are literature, but you approach them with that mind of: ”What's the text, what's the subtext, what's the feeling in this, what are these words here for?”, not: ”What do they mean?”, but: ”Why are they here?”, but that is a lot to ask of people who put a song on the stereo. It is maybe not the venue for it even, to put words like that to music and then wait for people to listen to it and ask why they are there. They are there to differentiate the verse from the chorus, not to communicate loss that doesn't even have a name.

John doesn't go into New Years expecting a significant kiss, but you can't stand there in the middle of New Years surrounded by people trying to have significant kisses and not feel like no matter what you do, no matter which direction you turn, the there is either no significant kiss, which already sets you apart, not from the people who get significant kisses, but from the people who are searching, or you are also searching. John doesn’t get a lot of significant kisses in life, maybe he steps in front of them too often, he doesn't attract to them, he even feels like he repels them, not because he doesn't need them, but he repels them. He doesn't know. He repelled them at 13 when he needed them the most, or at 15 or 16 or 17.

John needed them the most then, but that is not true because not getting them then he continued to need them the most and kept not getting them. It just was this kiss deferred until there wasn't a kiss that was that big that could make up for all the missing ones or lost ones. John doesn't go into New Years looking for that, looking for a kiss deferred, but he just wants to make it out the other side. It is a target, it is a day that sits there like a flag in a golf course and John falls prey to it.

If only he could just every year in December remember: ”This is like your birthday used to be!” He used to avoid people on his birthday, he still doesn't want that mandatory celebration: ”What are we celebrating me for? I didn't do anything! I made it one more time around? That doesn't feel like an accomplishment or a reason!” Dan says that people seem to really like to commemorate things. It is a new year, so things are supposed to feel different, even though it is just the day that the calendar has changed a little bit. People are looking for reasons to party or drink or go out and have fun or they are looking for something to mark a date so they can turn over a new leaf or start something new. That is the whole concept of the new year's resolution, which Dan doesn’t believe in.

Dan’s experience

Dan has been working out in a gym for years and right around the end of December / January you see this huge influx of new people coming into the gym. Dan goes Monday Wednesday Friday mornings and you get into the groove and you see the same people who typically are there most of the time at the same time as you, and once in a while someone won't be there and once in a while someone new will show up, but usually it is the same group. Come January there is this huge influx of new people who will be at the gym and it is a fun game to look around and try and guess who is going to stick around and Dan is pretty good now.

That is what happens: They are gone, they don't come back, and that is because they have started a new year's resolution and of course they don't keep up with it, but they are trying to mark and commemorate a day, they are using that day as an excuse to try something new or to try to improve themselves in some way. Dan commends that, he likes that, but there is nothing to stop anyone from doing that on January 1st. What about February 26th or June 8th? There is nothing special about the fact that the calendar is changing something, and don't get me started on the fact when the millennium or decade actually begins because it is not 2020, but people don't like hearing that either.

Dan also had more bad experiences, he doesn’t like the holidays, he never had a single good Christmas in his life or Hanukkah for that matter. He won't claim that it has been as bad as John’s, but Dan detests the holidays, he hates them and he wants to like them, he wants to have a good Christmas. It is possible to have something like that, he is hopeful and he tries, but it is not like he has ever had a good one. Everything is relative, Dan has never been stranded in the wilderness on Christmas, surviving by eating bark off of a tree, but Dan is talking emotionally and relative… This is a first world problem, but Dan never felt good on a Christmas.

One year when he was maybe four years old, and they were a Jewish household, they only did a tree once, and that one year there was a bike downstairs waiting for him once when he came downstairs. That was a good day, but he couldn't tell you whether it was Christmas or first day of Hanukkah or his birthday. Other than that it has just been crappy.

The phrase First World Problem (RW173)

If there is a list of phrases that John really rejects the mentality of, it is the phrase ”first world problem”. That is a pernicious mentality of affluent people trying to shame other affluent people for some reason, just trying to hurt each other. There is no such thing in particular! If you have a complaint, if something hurt you, it hurt you, and there is nothing gained by trying to diminish it and saying that your problems aren't real because you have a full plate. That is a dirty way to think and people use it all the time as part of this new culture of generously trying to acknowledge their good fortune, but you don't do that by taking away your ability to describe your suffering because everyone suffers! The idea that wealthy people or people who have enough to eat aren't entitled to suffer is some kind of gross way of thinking. More and more it washes over our culture and it becomes a way people talk, this constant reflexive dishonest apology for privilege. It has robbed us of something and replaced it with something ugly. Your problems are real, Dan and everyone listening!

There was a brief moment in time not very long ago when it was useful for each of us individually to reflect on how there are things about our lives that maybe we didn't understand were things that other people didn't share, and and that was in particular tied to race and class, in a way that just the ability to walk down the street for some people is easier or less fraught because of things that you didn't have any say in. But the problem wasn't that you had those things, which are native to you and you didn't choose that, but the problem was that you didn't realize when thinking about others that they didn't share the same world you did.

That was the benefit of that moment of saying: ”Are you woke? Have you reflected on your privilege?” because it meant that when John walks into a jewelry store and they buzz him in without thinking, and then the person following him because of the color of their skin doesn't get buzzed in but gets scrutinized, that was an additional challenged they faced that maybe John hadn't considered when he made comments to the effect of: ”Well, why don't people just deal with their problems with the same ease that I do right?” The benefit of that was a personal reflection and if he thought about that, if he read somebody talk about it, he considered it for the first time and went: ”Oh, wow! It never occurred to me that that ends up being a form of wealth!”

W.E. du Bois introduced that idea that it is money to just walk around with white skin. Having personally reflected on it, which is the only value, to constantly reiterate it, the only purpose of it is either to virtue signal to other people, which is only meaningful to them if they have also reflected on it, and if they have also reflected on it doesn't matter whether you have or not. Sharing the fact that you are members of that club particularly over and over is just a shibboleth at that point, or it is personally undermining because you take away everything good that happens to you by couching it in these terms of like: ”I probably didn't do anything to either earn this. There is nothing special about it, but I still have to talk about it because it is the only things I know, it is the stuff that happens in my life!” or it is meant as a one-upmanship, bullying, universe-creation that again is an awareness now that at least in our circles exists.

For it to work you need to be thinking about it, but having had the scales fall from your eyes becomes then either part of your daily understanding of the world or it doesn't, depending on who you are and how reflective you are, but hearing other people slap you with it doesn't inspire you to think about it more, it doesn't make you more reflective, it just becomes a shibboleth or a mantra, and a negative minded one, but it definitely doesn't continue to help other people. The people who are not susceptible to that way of thinking are not made more susceptible by repetition, and particularly not the way it is used, which is in the form of rebuke. That doesn't make anybody reflect on their own privilege more, it just becomes an inside handshake.

It is never used in world of people who actually are affected by it. Matt Haughie apologizing for his privilege to Merlin Mann builds nothing, it is just a circle jerk. From John’s standpoint, he and Dan is suffering, those are valid things to talk about, they don't need to be apologized for, they don't need to be contextualized. It is basically a version of: ”Eat all your peas because they are children starving in China!” or whatever it was that our mothers used to say to us in the 1970s, trying to get us to think about… what? It wasn't to think about famine, it was to shame you into eating your peas. It was a false liberalism, a false progressivism, that doesn't make the world better.

Dan agrees with John, but it is also a way for people to try to acknowledge the fact that it is really not so bad. It is not the end of the world, I don't need to feel horrible about this because relatively speaking I am sitting here at a desk talking into a microphone, I am going to make some money and have fun doing this with you and how bad is life really? That is what people are trying to convey when they say that. It is almost like saying: ”Things could be worse!” and that was always Dan’s family mantra, trying to find the humor in things, look at a situation and come away from it, trying to laugh about it, not later but during. Not: ”Do you remember that thing that happened two years ago? Can you believe it!” and having a laugh about it, but in the moment we better laugh or else we are going to be really upset about it.

John feels like that is a way more effective way to do, saying: ”Here I am and I am complaining about this trip on the subway, but my feet could be on fire!", which is very different than saying: ”Here I am waiting for the subway but I could be a disadvantaged person of a different color who is just trying to get into a jewelry store!” and that is condescending to people who really are having that problem. That is equivalent to saying: ”There are kids in China starving to death, but what am I doing about it?”

You are not doing anything, you are just trying to use it as very dark rhetorical whimsy and it is the opposite of what its intention is because it is objectifying and using other people's real trauma to make yourself feel better. John does say all the time: ”I could be on an out-planet and some explosion caused one of the walls of my shelter to blow out and now I have some tarp there, that would suck!”, but the way this has turned into this corrupted version of it just raises John’s hackles and it does it more and more. John has conversations with friends that are punctuated with that kind of talk over and over until communication suffers from it.

Those signals aren't being sent to John, they are not meaningful in terms of the conversation, but they are meant to guard against rebuke from someone else because there is this fear in the culture now that if you say: ”I stubbed my toe!” that there is some rando out there who is going to say: ”First world problem!” and you need to get ahead of them and guard yourself against that kind of rebuke from somebody you don't know or care about, some dummy out there who is trying to make themselves feel better, make themselves seem smart, make themselves feel more woke because they are out there.

Standing up in a question and answer period during a book reading, saying: ”Yes, I just wondered if you would reflect on your privilege a little bit!” - ”Fuck you!” (47:30) Reflecting on your privilege is a personal thing, it is not a public performance! You go reflect on your privilege! It is not a dance! It is only useful if you sit and do it yourself and if you bring it to your encounters with other people, so that you don't stand there and say: ”Well people should just lift themselves up by their bootstraps!” and not be aware that there are steeper climbs for others. That is its only utility, to make you be less of an asshole, not to show your friends!

John is made to deny that he has any right to be sad, not because others have it worse, but because he doesn't deserve nice things. That is a challenge that he carries through his life. He says to himself: ”The feelings you are having are your just desserts or they represent an accurate understanding of how bad things are!” To have depression and have it be unresolvable because the voice in your head tells you that things are awful and simultaneously, whatever other voice in your head might be there trying to relieve that feeling, and say that you are a good person and you try hard.

That voice is also in league and saying: ”Well, that may feel bad to hear, but it is true!” That has been something that at least in the last handful of years John has recognized and said: ”This can't be the dialogue in my head!” The various voices cannot be in a conspiracy to assure him that his worst feelings are sensible. John doesn't need the additional help of also being told that he doesn't have a right to those feelings in the first place because he doesn’t even want those feelings!

What writing means for John (RW173)

A friend who walks with John all the time is the friend of the possibility that he would sit down and write and keep writing. He doesn’t think of that friend as the same thing, as not having finished college or having finished college and having it be nothing, or not having finished an album, not having finished a book. John thinks of the moment that he sits down and starts writing and keeps writing as a friend, as a potential, as maybe a place that he could find a home, but he doesn’t do it because he is afraid of what is going to come out. He doesn’t want to have bad things come out. He doesn't want to write things that he writes and writes and writes and then looks at it and go: ”None of that is real! None of it helps! That is just fertilizer!”, and partly that is because John wrote a lot between the ages of 17 and 27. He wrote and wrote and wrote.

During the time that he was drinking and doing drugs what John did when he wasn't drunk and high was sit and write and fill notebooks. It was all awful, bad writing. It was writing, he was practicing, he was honing it, and the one good thing that came out of it was that he gradually out of just pure frustration and pure self recrimination learned to write in his own speaking voice. What makes a lot of that writing bad is that it is not in his voice, it is him trying on other voices and trying to figure out how he wrote and realizing that he just needed to write like he thinks, which is how he speaks, and that was a long process of writing something that just was B.S. and looking at it and going: ”What if I just said this the way that I think?”

Running for city council with not his own voice (RW173)

One of the hardest parts of reflecting on his city council run was that he didn't understand that world and he was trying to conform to it. He wanted to try and write and think in a way that was suitable for the role. A friend who had previously run for city council had made it through the primary a long time ago he now runs a bookstore in Mexico City. John consulted him when he first started running, his name is Grant Cogswell, and he said: ”Here is my one piece of advice: Don't wear a suit, wear a Rock T-shirt! Get out there and say your thing and be yourself and don't try to be something you are not!”

The thing is: John doesn't literally wear Rock T-shirts. Grant knows that John wears button down shirts and that he likes to wear ties, and when he said that it made John blow off his advice because he was like: ”I'm not the Rock ’n’ Roll candidate who is going to go to these meetings in a Dio T-shirt! I care about the city and I care about stuff!” Grant ran as a poet and that is not that different than what John did who ran as a musician. John tried to join that world and he doesn't speak the language of that world and he is not a member of that world, and so it didn't work.

What John failed to do was actually stand up in front of the city and say: ”We need to put in zip lines, gondolas, as a form of public transit, because our city isn't built for bike commuting and even light rail in the way that other cities are. Big cities like Atlanta that are built on a giant flat plane or cities like Portland that are built on a small flat plane, it is just easier for normal people to do that!” There are bike commuters in Seattle, but they are a hardy group. You can't just say to some 50 year old who has never exercised before: ”Just hop on your bike and ride 15 miles to work!” That is not a solution for the city as a whole. It is a solution for people who are like: ”Hey, it never occurred to me! I'm fit! I like to ride my bike! Why not just ride it to work!”

You can't say: ”This is how we are going to solve the city's problems!” because it is often 45 degrees and raining here, too! One of John’s principles was: ”We have a city of seven hills, we are like fucking ancient Rome, and we should have gondolas!”, but he never said it publicly because it sounded ridiculous and it would have been ridiculous in the context of a city council race, but it would have been where John actually was coming from. He would now be able to point to it and say: ”Here were my platforms!” and 20 years from now when we do build gondolas John will have been on record!

John got into that race and there were all these severe-faced, super-earnest, ugly progressive screaming at each other about minutia in what they considered to be the universal right to have housing under certain circumstances and conditions that aren't real, that didn't apply. You can't just scream: ”Rent control!” into the air without a plan to have rent control be a part of the economy of your city and region and that doesn't happen in a vacuum! You don't just implement it! You have to consider it! John was standing in a room where people are yelling at each other about a thing that he thinks is more of a fantasy than a gondola. He straightened his tie and tried to weigh in and it wasn't his voice because he didn't believe it.

It was another mistake, like when he went to work at a stock brokerage and walked in the door and was like: ”Well, this is real! It is realer than what I do and think! This is the real world and I am living in a dream world or a fantasy world!”, but John is not any more than they are, it is just that that is the world that people John doesn’t respect agree is real or agree is the only world, and that is the thing makes him incredulous. The reason their fantasy world is in power, the reason that it is the world, is that the people that advocate for it don't think there is another, and those of us who know there are a few worlds are just bad at communicating that. The problem is you can never really stand on a pedestal and shout if you are somebody that goes: ”Well,…!” Gondolas would be cool, but there are other ideas you should consider, too! And that is not the way you get anything built. It is certainly not the way you convince people there is only one way to think!


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