Also: Link (=his most recent interview with Terry Gross, the last minute of which is heartbreakingly heartfelt).
Everything is terrible Archive
Have you applied for a job lately? God, I hope not, because now, in addition to the new normal that is employers checking your credit score and asking for your Facebook password, we have this charming bit of news out of San Francisco: you know those W-2s you get once a year to file your taxes? Your future boss wants to have a look at those, too, just so he knows that he’s not paying you too much:
“I recently interviewed for an Amazon position and made it through the three-month interview process and was notified that they wanted to hire me. The first step in the offer process, however, was that I had to submit my previous year’s W-2 or federal tax return. Without that information, they would be unable to proceed. After providing them with my W-2, they made an offer that was below the salary range they originally quoted,” says Kevin, who doesn’t want his last name used because he turned down the offer and doesn’t want his current employer to know he’s job hunting.
Forget upward mobility, my fellow citizens. Once a serf, always a serf. It’s the new American way.
So I’m going through my RSS feed, right, and I’m just reading along to, you know, the news and “the blogs” and “the word on the street.” And then a crazy thing happened. I thought, “I wonder if Meghan McCain has written anything stupid lately.” So I went ahead and Googled her. And I went to her website. And I read a few things. Let’s take them one at a time.
In “What I Love About The Hunger Games,” McCain writes the following.
Obviously I haven’t seen The Hunger Games yet, but I have read the books. I love a young adult story that celebrates a woman fighting and being independent, rather than just marrying the man being the whole point of the movie (like Twilight). The film is full of strong female characters like Effie, played by Elizabeth Banks.
Aaaaannnnd, then she links to a video of an actress in the movie talking about her character (full disclosure: I DID NOT WATCH THE VIDEO!) And that’s it. Her entire argument about “the film” (which she hasn’t yet seen ["OBVIOUSLY"!]) is that it “is full of strong female characters” and that she “loves” that.
I am Meghan McCain, and I like chocolate ice cream. Please pay me money for this insight, please.
In “My Thoughts on HBO’s Game Change,” which is a movie about her father, McCain graces her readers with this probing bit of analysis:
Did you happen to see “Game Change” on HBO? It’s the movie about the 2008 presidential campaign. My dad has not and will not watch the film because he feels it’s too biased and misrepresents the facts.
[clip of some shit her dad said]
I can tell you one thing: he’s right about the cursing. He doesn’t curse very often. Films like this are usually written for dramatic effect and ratings…portraying the facts accurately isn’t usually the top priority when it comes to entertainment.
Aaaannnnd, that’s also it? Oh, right, then she begs for comments, presumably because she gets paid $1,000 per comment.
Honestly, I might get drunk occasionally and write really rambling posts about subjects I have no real business speaking to — and I might write outright clunkers myself every once in a while — but, so help me God, if I ever conclude with something as banal as “[P]ortraying the facts accurately isn’t usually the top priority when it comes to entertainment,” hack this website, steal my personal identity, and use it for sex tourism in Thailand.
(Unless, that is, the video that I skipped is somehow exculpatory and revelatory, in which case feel free to correct me in the comments.)
In “Interview with Forbes at SXSW,” McCain posts a video of herself talking about life lessons, which I did not watch, and concludes thusly:
Look guys, there are no mistakes in life. Everything is an experience that you can enjoy, or learn from, or whatever you want. Sitting around regretting the past is a waste of your time. Learn from the past, don’t dwell on it. Feeling bad about things you can’t change or control is just not a constructive use of your time and resources.
Nice try, Meghan McCain, but feeling bad about bad things that you’ve done is PRECISELY THE MECHANISM BY WHICH YOU ARE EXPECTED TO LEARN FROM THOSE BAD THINGS! THAT’S WHY YOU FEEL BAD!
I get that her point is some hippy-dippy, “It’s all in the past, maaan, chillax!” but her fundamental misunderstanding of how we conceive of guilt in a system of justice is fucking MIND BOGGLING. You are supposed to feel bad for your crimes, you are supposed to repent, and you are supposed to NOT DO THAT SHIT AGAIN, because it MADE YOU FEEL BAD, and the reason it MADE YOU FEEL BAD is because WHAT YOU DID WAS WRONG.
Life is an endless string of calamities and fuck-ups. You can take that to mean that you have to accept more responsibility for your actions than ever, or you can use it to explain away your embarrassments to your conscience. McCain suggests the latter course, which makes sense for a narcissist who has never had to work for anything.
In “Limbaugh, Contraception, and Sluts,” McCain writes more than one short paragraph. PROGRESS (Even though this was technically a month ago. Regress?)! Let’s hear what she has to say, shall we?
As you may or may not know
We know, bro. It was a pretty big deal.
Sandra Fluke is a third-year student of Georgetown Law School who is now at the center of the [contraception] issue after conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh later called Fluke a “slut” on his radio show. The comment which justifiably infuriated a lot of people. [SIC AS ALL HOLY HELL] It seems that it doesn’t matter if you are an educated young woman unafraid to express an opinion, or were the president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice, [sic] (which Fluke was) — from Limbuagh’s point of view, if you’re a woman who feels entitled to receiving insurance coverage for birth control, you’re a slut to society.
GET A MOTHERFUCKING EDITOR! I thought the editors she had at the Beast were bad, but this is simply horrifying. First. McCain is not known. For her sentence fragments. When she does it, it doesn’t play off as, “Oh, there’s a master of the language playing with the form.” No. It. Does. Not. Instead, it makes you go back, reread, go back and reread AGAIN (ALLCAPS!), and wonder to yourself, “Did she really go to press with that?” It’s not as if this post is moments old, either. IT’S BEEN ON THE FUCKING SITE FOR A MONTH, AND THERE’S A GIANT SENTENCE FRAGMENT OF AWKWARD IN THE MIDDLE OF IT! It’s also, I might add, the most substantive thing she’s written about in that time period, and something I was actually genuinely curious to see a reaction to (it was the first link I clicked on the homepage, anyway).
McCain comes out on the right side of the issue — to wit, Limbaugh is a misogynist and a jackass — but aside from garbling her message with her lack of eloquence and proofreading, she also garbles it with statements like this:
This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, when a derogatory term is used to label a woman who makes a stand on a complicated issue publicly.
My emphasis. There is nothing at all “complicated” about women having access to affordable birth control. It’s just about as uncomplicated as black folks being allowed in the front of the bus. There is absolutely no reason to cede any ground to people like Rush Limbaugh, who would suggest that women having control over their own bodies is a privilege and not a right.
Finally, brutishly, and shortly, there is “My Thoughts on The DREAM Act,” in which Meghan McCain tepidly endorses the law, but admits that it just isn’t easy for good white people to see all of these brown folks coming into Arizona all of a sudden. Also we shouldn’t deport children. Oh, also, some child (I presume?) named Raina — we should care about her and her alone (I didn’t watch the video).
Guns Don’t Kill (black) People (walking innocently down the street in a gated community), Hoodies Kill People
Over at Fox News, Geraldo Rivera gets paid for his unique blend of cogent and level-headed analysis. Here’s what he has to say about the Trayvon Martin case:
“MAYBE IF HE HADN’T BEEN WEARING A HOODED SWEATSHIRT, HE WOULDN’T'A BEEN SHOT! EVER THINK ABOUT THAT, LIBRULS??”
What a vile, reprehensible, victim-blaming sack of shit. I hope he gets gangrene on his penis.
Edit: To be clear, what is so thoroughly ridiculous about Rivera’s sentiment isn’t the fact that it’s about an article of clothing which, “Hey, we all like to wear hoodies sometimes, why you gotta pick on hoodies Geraldo? Leave hoodies alone, man.” No, what’s ridiculous is saying that by wearing a hoodie Martin somehow asked to be profiled, stalked, and murdered, because he conformed to a stereotype that white folks have about black folks. It’s not the racist’s fault that he shot an unarmed kid, it’s also the kid’s for not going out of his way to not dress how most people dress. (FULL DISCLOSURE: THE AUTHOR OWNS A FEW HOODIES, AND IMAGINES THAT MOST OF YOU MIGHT HAVE ONE KICKING AROUND SOMEWHERE, TOO.)
“Didn’t wanna get shot? SHOULDA DRESSED MORE LIKE WHITE FOLKS, DUMMY!” is Geraldo’s message, and it’s one that he proudly admits to imparting to his own children. People of color can do this and only this, white people can do whatever they want, and never the twain shall meet.
It’s sad and it’s revolting, but it’s incredibly common. Victim-blaming happens all the time. The woman who wears a short dress and gets raped should have dressed more modestly. The black kid popping skittles should have had a collared shirt on, and he definitely shouldn’t have run when a grown man started chasing him — in a car! The guy with the lisp who was beaten to a pulp shouldn’t have been acting so gay in that part of town. The list goes on. It’s just another day in America, where not only do we tolerate this sort of mentality, we encourage it.
Rivera is suggesting that you try to explain premeditated murder by examining how the wardrobe of the victim may have been interpreted by the murderer as a reasonable threat. He is actively siding with Zimmerman here. ‘I cross the street when I see a black person in a hooded sweatshirt.’ Wow, good for you, Geraldo. So brave. I guess since you, the pinnacle of human bravery, merely cross the street when you see black people, I’m entitled to chase them and shoot them, since I am nowhere near as brave as you. That’s how this works, right? It’s a contest?
I would suggest that chasing someone who has done you no harm and is not an active threat to you, and then killing that person in cold blood is unquestionably wrong, no matter how many bigoted stereotypes a salt-of-the-earth, Real American thinks that person fits. And I would suggest that Geraldo Rivera kindly go fuck himself.
They’re taking the war on women national, people:
“I favor the Violence Against Women Act and have supported it at various points over the years, but there are matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who opposed the latest version last month in the Judiciary Committee. “You think that’s possible? You think they might have put things in there we couldn’t support that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?”
The legislation would continue existing grant programs to local law enforcement and battered women shelters, but would expand efforts to reach Indian tribes and rural areas. It would increase the availability of free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, extend the definition of violence against women to include stalking, and provide training for civil and criminal court personnel to deal with families with a history of violence. It would also allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.
I don’t know what they think will happen. Will battered women be the new “anchor babies”? Are Republicans really going to step up this patently ridiculous fight for the right of white, straight bros to tell everyone else how to live? Because if they are, I kind of can’t wait to watch the implosion, and I’m kinda of disgusted with the whole thing.
Sometimes I find the best way to deal with the fact one of our national parties is filled with insane people is to take a step back and pretend that it’s all a big teevee show. Granted, it’s relatively easy for me, as I’m not the target of most of the horrible legislation that’s proposed and passed in the name of the culture wars, but a coping mechanism is a coping mechanism. I’ll take what I can get.
What the fuck happened at the Republican Presidential debate last night?
I stopped live-blogging these things a while ago, because they just made me want to cut myself. Or self-immolate on the floor of Congress. In the above, we go from a discussion about birth control to a discussion about… I don’t even know. How denying access to birth control to women is the definition of freedom, or some such. I honestly can’t understand how half the country thinks that giving these people the reins of government would be a good idea. And it’s been depressing the hell out of me (in case you haven’t noticed that I’ve been shying away from this sort of stuff lately). We’re all going to die, and that’s sad (if slightly liberating) enough. But the fact that we’re going to be bossed around by madmen until we finally do perish is, for me, not particularly funny right now.
Umberto Eco wrote, in The Name of the Rose, about Aristotle’s lost works, and particularly a treatise on comedy, whose supposed existence in an obscure monastery’s library in the Middle Ages led to several mysterious deaths, around which the main plot revolves. The professor who taught it to me in my 20th Century Italian Literature class (senior slide, baby), suggested that it was the fear of comedy and the absurd — and their capacity to undermine authority by replacing our fear of the iron fist with laughter at its very existence — that made the antagonist resort to murdering anyone who dared try to find it. And it’s certainly true that satire is an extremely effective method of political protest. Two of the most trusted news sources in American politics today work for Comedy Central, after all. There’s certainly something to be said for that.
The people in the video above? They are pure comedy and absolute absurdism. The shit they’re throwing out is so staggeringly incoherent that the “jokes,” so to speak, write themselves. But to me, that signals something like the end of parody. When all you have to do is quote a politician to get a laugh, a la Tina Fey on SNL, you’ve taken all the fun out of it. It’s not hilarious that people are arguing that easy access to birth control leads to single welfare moms and/or drug addicts. It’s not funny that they’re getting applause for it. And it’s not rotfl that these people are serious contenders for the leadership of the free world.
Or maybe it still is for some people, and maybe I’m just doing a bad job of coping with the deep depravity of human existence right now. At any rate, I’m certainly not laughing about it.
At my job, I encounter a lot of very stupid books. There are a lot of very stupid people, you see, and they like to read very stupid books. And then those get donated to my non-profit and I sort through them and judge the anonymous people who donated them, usually harshly. It grants me the rare opportunity to feel superior to people who likely make more money than I ever have or will. Like the guy who took the time to leave a half-garbled sentence in my seller feedback when I had to cancel his order of “The Preppy Handbook” or some shit, due to Amazon being glitchy? Yeah, I still make fun of that dude in my head sometimes. And I make fun of you when you drop off thirty Danielle Steele novels at my donation bins, too. It’s a perk of being in the book donation world: I get to examine your marginalia, the titles you read, the boarding passes you leave in the middle of shitty airport books. I get to peek into your life and decide whether or not you’re a good person. What’s that? You just donated five Rachael Ray cookbooks?
Oh, hi. I think less of you.
But I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered a more loathsome book than the one that I’m about to describe. Published by Random House in 2007, penned by the illustrious Marjorie Walsh, who runs “an elite dog resort in the UK catering to a handful of pampered pooches, with… specially-developed meals,” we have the one and only “Cooking for Dogs: Tempting Recipes for Your Best Friend to Enjoy.” Seriously. That’s the title. It only goes downhill from here.
Full disclosure: it’s a cookbook, and I haven’t read the recipes beyond their titles. I’m not judging the book on the basis of its recipes. I’m judging it on the basis of it having been written. Also, the introduction. And then I’ll probably pick some of the recipes to highlight for the purposes of pointing out how ludicrous the whole thing is. And then I’ll say “Fuck” a few times and conclude. Or maybe I’ll just conclude with “Fuck.” Hard to say. Let’s get going.
Here is Marjorie in the intro:
When I looked at the nutritional information on commercial pet food and saw by-products, fillers and derivatives I decided that I didn’t want to feed that to my dogs. I wouldn’t eat these things, so why should our dogs?
BECAUSE THEY’RE FUCKING DOGS AND THEY EAT THEIR OWN SHIT AND MAYBE YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT THAT BEFORE YOU TRY TO WINE AND DINE THEM INTO SUBMISSION? THEY EAT THEIR OWN SHIT, THEY EAT VOMIT, THEY EAT TRASH!! THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT MONSANTO, HONEY!
I’ll try to ease up on the all-caps. Pressing forward:
I started out by just making extra food when cooking the family’s meals, so that our dogs ate what we ate. Because I wanted to get it right, I did a lot of research and invested in some nutritional software. The end result is happy, healthy dogs with coats like velvet, plenty of energy, and hardly any pooping.
Hardly any pooping. Great. Instead of pooping, they just beg all the time because they’re being treated to fucking lamb with lentils (actual recipe) and salmon stroganoff (also an actual recipe), because some idiot with way too much time and money is pushing a book that encourages feeding dogs people food. But hey, no shitting! No more cleaning up shit! Sure, you have to spend 20 minutes prepping and 55 minutes cooking Scruffy’s avocado and chicken casserole, but no poop! Who’s walking who, now, motherfuckers?
…[T]he experts don’t really know what makes the perfect dog food. Breeders and vets will have their favorite foods, too. So, how do you know?
PICK ME PICK ME! I bet if you feed them people food they’ll like that best of all! Yay! Where the fuck is my medal?
Dogs are like humans:
No, they’re not.
Soda cans are like humans: all different. Grains of sand are like humans: all different. Giant green dildos are like humans: all different.
For larger dogs it is much kinder to put their feed bowl in a stand adjusted for their height so that they are not stooping to eat their food.
Because who would subject a dog to the indignity of stooping for his meal? Now, maid? Cook Scruffy some tuna polenta, it’s his birthday.
From here, the introduction becomes slightly less patently offensive. Walsh assures us that dogs need plenty of calcium, and that the ideal meal “should consist of 25% protein, 30% fat, and 45% carbohydrates.” “Hold on a second,” you might be thinking. “Didn’t she admit in the second paragraph that there’s a wide range of opinion when it comes to what to feed your dog, and that every dog is different? Like humans?” Well yeah, sure, you pedant. But that was a whole page ago, and Walsh has a deadline to meet, books to sell. This is the right formula for all of the iddy-biddy, special snowflake dogs on the planet. Or you know. Close enough.
(I should note here that the second page of the particular copy I have is highlighted in pink and underlined in ink, suggesting that the previous owner has read this introduction at least twice, each time with an eye toward studying its hidden wisdom. This is deeply depressing on a number of levels, but I don’t feel like crying right now, so let’s keep going, if we could.)
So, armed with this information you can actually share your evening meal with your pet, remembering to add calcium to their portion. Dogs also need fat for energy so their meat should not be too lean, and don’t get too hung up on calories. Just be guided by your pet.
That this advice, “Don’t get too hung up on calories. Just be guided by your pet” comes in the context of a discussion about SHARING YOUR FUCKING MEALS WITH IT is troubling. I can just imagine Walsh’s husband Craig getting home from work on a Wednesday evening. “What do you want for dinner, Marjorie?”
“I’m quite not sure quite, Craig.” (She’s British: they say “quite” a lot.) “What does Scruffy want?”
“Scruffy wants beef and black bean stew, love,” Craig replies.
“Maid?” Marjorie calls.
I hope the maid steals their jewelry is what I’m saying.
No, what I’m really saying is that somehow a book was written that advised pet owners to take their nutritional cues from dogs. You’re counting calories? How silly, my dog isn’t counting them! Why don’t you listen to your dog more? Maybe you’d have more friends.
How easy is it? Well just cook extra, either from one of these recipes or from your own evening meal. Divide into portions and either refrigerate or freeze the excess for later use so you have ready-made meals on hand when you have run out of dog food.
In sum, fuck starving people everywhere. You have the opportunity to feed your dog salmon, and you should take it. You thought those leftovers would be tasty for lunch tomorrow? Think about how much your dog will love them right now!
Just add some crushed up eggshells. For calcium. Oh, also, here’s a bunch of stupid recipes. KTHXBAI. <3 Marjorie
Overall reading experience: 1/10. Would not recommend.
So the brief background is: some fifteen year old teenager posted a whiny rant about how Life Is So Unfair My Parents Are Stupid on the good old Facebook, her father discovered it, read it aloud before a video camera from a chair in a field somegoddamned place in the South, and responded by… unloading a clip of bullets into her laptop.
Just wait for it. Up until a certain point you’re empathizing with the dude, cause his daughter does sound like a piece of work. But then. Yes. Bullets. Bullets everywhere.
Rationally, of course, you know that there is nothing that you, as fan watching at home, can do to affect the outcome of a game. That it doesn’t matter, for example, that you wore your Red Sox hoodie over your Patriots hawaiian shirt for the first time this entire playoffs, even though you’d previously only worn said shirt with your Patriots “Give Blood” t-shirt (a freebie from the blood drive at work three years ago), your Patriots socks and Patriots boxers (neither of which you’d washed this post-season, but which totally isn’t gross because you really only wore them during the games themselves, so that’s like, what, eight hours max? so get over yourselves), and the faux Patriots bling you bought for $10 (plus shipping) on eBay back in college. And you know that it wouldn’t have made a difference if you’d forced the cat to suffer a little longer in his undersized Patriots pet jersey — supposedly made for a “medium dog,” but somehow hilariously tight on your wife’s overweight Maine Coon — especially since you’d promised she could take it off of him after the Pats’ first offensive series, which ended after one play on a MOTHERFUCKINGSAFETYHOLYSHITAREYOUMOTHERFUCKINGKIDDINGMEBRADY!?!!11? And the fact that you sat down during halftime after forgetting about your promise to stand the entire game, because halftime doesn’t count as the game game, right? and your legs were cramping a little, so who cares if you take a load off for a few minutes while Madonna whores it up with a bunch of parkour dudes? besides which, you were feeling a little weak because all you’d had for dinner was appetizers because there was no way you were gonna be able to eat any of the three-bean turkey chili bubbling away on the stove — not with the football-sized knot in your stomach — but the point being, you understand intellectually that there was no cosmic disturbance resulting from your moment of weakness, that four minutes on your great-grandfather’s naugahyde easy chair had nothing to do with the eventual outcome. And whether you placed your autographed Patriots cheerleaders banner on top of or in front of your Patriots cooler was completely irrelevant, as was the exact angle and orientation of your Patriots Beanie Baby with comically large Patriots tie (which is only comically large on the small stuffed animal but is, in truth, normal-sized on the human being for whom it was intended) and the old-fashioned faux-leather Patriots helmet with the original Pat Patriot logo, which maybe you should have been wearing, but which you also wore four years ago during the last Superbowl That Shall Remain Nameless and look how that turned out. And you comprehend that the cardboard Patriots coasters on your coffee table would have been equally useless even if you’d kept your frosty-mugged grape juice on there as well instead of keeping it on the other coffee table because the first one was crowded.
You know, deep down and not so deep down, that none of these actions and baubles, taken either singularly or in combination, has ever made a difference, will ever make a difference, could ever make a difference. And still you think…fuck…if only I hadn’t laid out my Patriots pajama bottoms on the bed before the game began. YOU ARROGANT ASSHOLE!!! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!@!!!!!!!!!!3234!3245890&$*)%&(*!
…pitchers and catchers report in two weeks…
Dude’s getting a lot of Reddit love for this video:
He seems to think Star Trek is a fully realized and unproblematic vision of a possible human future (bear with me); a supposedly possible future he’s innovatively called “2,” presumably because numbers are impressive. Problem 1 (I can use numbers too!): The Star Trek universe is not a fully realized and unproblematic vision of a possible human future, nor is it intended to be.
In the Star Trek universe, it’s given that we’ve transcended the will to power as a species, which is attributed to a combination of a memory of the trauma of brutal eugenics wars (see that episode where Q puts humanity on trial) and a wonder and humility rooted in first contact with an alien species (see “First Contact” — the second of the Star Trek movies starring the TNG gang). …Really, Kaku? You REALLY think that’d work? How long was it after the horrors of WWII that the Cold War picked up?
And even in Trek, you needed to actually have first contact with a technologically superior alien species. It was a necessary condition. What’s dude’s plan if that deus (alienus?) ex machina doesn’t end up materialising? (Side note: I grew up loving TNG (=”The Next Generation,” or “The one with Patrick Stewart”). It was my favorite show from age, like, 6 to 12. I still nostalgically enjoy the company of those characters, and I’m sure the show defined my moral intuition to a far greater extent than I could even really say.)
The point, tho, is it’s not a very credible vision of the future of humanity. But, as I said above, it was never supposed to be. The point of Trek was to be a soap box for Gene Roddenberry to declare on contemporary problems (like racism, greed, torture, technology, etc.) abstracted from the reality of our world (in which they exist) and from an angle of absolute humanistic moral authority.
If Roddenberry was genuinely interested in laying out a full vision for how society might work, he wouldn’t have just given it to us that money has been abolished — he would have gone into far greater historical detail as to what that process looked like, and how whatever resources are still scarce are managed and distributed. The answer is quite clearly implied: a strong, central bureaucratic authoritarian body. This is clear, for example, in how prime assignments on prime starships, like the Enterprise, which were certainly scarce, were distributed. They distributed on the basis of a highly formalized system of academic testing designed to reduce you to a comparable commodity manageable by the centralized bureaucracy. Assignments come from a “Starfleet Command” whose internal dynamics and politics are only vaguely gestured towards. We’ve seen this political-economic form before. How the Federation has managed to overcome the ultimately socially dominating dynamics that we saw emerge in almost every society that adopted that model is never specified. Presumably it has something to do with the elimination of the scarcity of life essentials — food, shelter, etc.
Problem 2: It seems to me that all of the most important indicators are telling us we’re heading into a period of increased, not reduced, scarcity:
The marginal gains in food production from technological advancements in food production are diminishing just as demand is increasing at a far greater rate than just the increase in our population (thanks to ethanol and the increased demand for more resource intensive food products by the growing middle classes in countries like China, India, and Brazil), and soon we’re going to to run into a serious water shortage thanks to our widespread over-taxing of depleting aquifers (all this is summarize here).
Energy innovation will have to make incredibly dramatic and sudden leaps forward if it’s going to pick up the slack in a post-peak-oil world (I’m more optimistic here than I am about food, but not by much. Thorium is pretty exciting, but there are plenty of very good reasons to be skeptical that it’ll ever get the kind of government support it needs to get fully off the ground (various lobbies for one, and for two, its unweaponizability in a global context of scarcity in which, any realpolitician worth their salt will tell you, it’s going to be all the more important to make sure you’re the one holding the biggest club — remember, we haven’t kicked the whole will-to-power thing yet and really shouldn’t rest on assuming we’ll be able to in time, even if we can imagine we might do it eventually.)
And then there’s population growth and climate change which, according to the IEA’s latest projection, will likely bring civilization-ending temperatures before the century is out. An important point to be made about climate change is that, as a species and scientifically speaking, we know exactly what we need to do to pull ourselves back from the brink. We just can’t make ourselves do it. Why? Because our social/political/economic system is a machine run out of control.
The problem this poses isn’t a scientific one, it’s, d’uh, a sociological/political/economic one, and there was no substantial engagement with it, as such, in Kaku’s little talk whatsoever.
I pointed this out on Reddit (+5 upvotes, -4 downvotes), and got the following reply:
Pretty sure he is in a much better position to predict the future of civilization than the average sociologist. (+5 upvotes, 0 downvotes)
But back to Kaku: All Kaku gives us, socio-politically, is a vague gesture at “fundamentalism.” But fundamentalism isn’t the problem. Fundamentalism is a symptom. It’s an irrationalist response to the less and less avoidable rational conclusion that there’s no metaphysical grounding for a universal system of values around which we can all eventually unite; the conclusion that the universe itself isn’t rich with external-to-us sources of existential meaning, which brings me to another thing the Star Trek universe allowed its characters to take for granted that we simply can’t: Almost all of the episodes derived their interest through their engagement with fundamentally humanistic (not scientific) problems — an encounter with a new and mysterious source of consciousness or system of values that’s at odds with some until-then unproblematized aspect of the system structuring the humans’ interpretations of themselves and the universe.
And even when it did focus on science, the process of scientific research was never represented realistically. Huge and dramatic problems were soft-balled to be dramatically batted out of the park in some grand deus ex machina brought to us by, more often than not, Gene Roddenberry’s Mary Sue — the transcendently genius but also handsome, unpresupposing and relatable young acting-ensign, Wesley Crusher. And the solving of these problems never only resulted in a publication and researchers light-years away labouring to come up with ways to make practical use of the discovery. Wesley’s solutions always had immediate, dramatic impacts on his life and the lives of the crew.
Sorry, but that’s just not how science works. The process of science, truth be told, is almost always pretty fucking ponderous and dull. Full of null findings (not many of those in Star Trek either).
But back to fundamentalism: Fundamentalism is a symptom of an exploitative global political-economic system that structures civilization through subordination of all qualitative values to a fundamental quantitative value (read: capital). The very same system that’s made it possible for elites around the globe to buy mass-manufactured, pseudo-luxury products like Chanel bags which — no, Kaku — are not in themselves any kind of cultural advancement over the luxury handbags of previous decades (or centuries) any more so than the global ubiquity of manufactured pop bullshit like Akon and Transformers — when I was backpacking I heard Akon fucking everywhere, and saw Transformers in a packed theatre in Seoul — represents a cultural advance from the Beatles or the Godfather or Shakespeare or Aeschylus (blockbuster artists of times past). They’re signs of the emergence of a vapid global monoculture.
And the steamrolling of the English language over something like 100 languages per year in its march to global linguistic hegemony (another encouraging sign, by Kaku)? If you know another language, you know to what degree it can let us access meanings or perspectives on things impossible or tremendously awkward in English. It really is a fucking tragedy, all the ways of seeing the universe that we’re destroying forever. Werner Herzog speaks to this here (most relevant bit begins at about 5:20):
And the idea that it’ll all be great once we can just “Play around with” the earth? Kaku, what–the–fuck is our game gonna be? Dodgeball? Does he seriously imagine GLaDOS happy?
We’re at a point, right now, where there’s a major crisis of value — where we really have to work (whether we do so consciously or unconsciously) at not being nihilists — the recourse of many, as mentioned, being denial through fundamentalism.
What games do nihilists play? None. Because there’s no point. Inert, they’re carried by the current, biggass waterfall (read catastrophic food and energy crises and warming-caused mass extinction) on the horizon or no.
What games do fundamentalists (irrationalists) play? SCARY ONES.
Michio Kaku is a fundamentalist. The end.
/drunken doom-prophetic rant
Update: A Redditor has kindly pointed out that Kaku didn’t invent the “1, 2, 3″ typology of civilizations. Wiki:
The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring an advanced civilization’s level of technological advancement. The scale is only theoretical and in terms of an actual civilization highly speculative; however, it puts energy consumption of an entire civilization in a cosmic perspective. It was first proposed in 1964 by the SovietRussianastronomerNikolai Kardashev. The scale has three designated categories called Type I, II, and III. These are based on the amount of usable energy a civilization has at its disposal, and the degree of space colonization. In general terms, a Type I civilization has achieved mastery of the resources of its home planet, Type II of its solar system, and Type III of its galaxy.
Interesting, but how exactly Kaku makes the jump between the consolidation of our exploitation of all of the potential energy resources on the planet to the idea that we’ve achieved some kind of utopia, I have no idea. Presumably he’s conjecturing that if we’ve lasted long enough for technology to advance that far, we must’ve figured out how to get along. Maybe. And maybe if Aristotle had imagined a future society that had progressed to the point where it was able to harness the atom, he’d've made the same assumption. I doubt it though. Aristotle was many things, but incautiously naive wasn’t one of them.