So, what's going in my earhole this month?
Somehow, I've taken a left turn and ended up hip deep in the podcasts of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web and I'm fascinated, intrigued and oddly, for the first time in awhile when looking out at the barren cesspool of our discourse, ever so slightly hopeful.
I suppose we should start at the beginning: what is the Intellectual Dark Web? Well, it emerged after this New York Times article late last year, which profiled a loose and diverse collection of intellectuals from across the ideological divide that were using a variety of mediums- but most especially the long form podcast to engage more deeply with issues and ideas in a way that is almost impossible with the current model of clickbait/cable news journalism. (They've also got a website as well, if you want to peruse them more.)
I'm not listening to everything there is to listen to out there by the members of the Intellectual Dark Web, but I think I'm doing an okay sample. I've put the Joe Rogan Podcast back in my feed and added the Jordan Petersen Podcast as well as Waking Up With Sam Harris to round out the fun.
When I first seriously began digging into podcasts, I tried the Joe Rogan Podcast on someone's recommendation and I just couldn't get into it. Three hours seemed like a long ass time commitment to me at the time, but this time around for some reason I actually got into it. Rogan doesn't really seem to have an agenda- he also just seems to find people that interest him and talk to them about their ideas and what makes them interesting. He's an engaged interviewer and genuinely wants to listen to and talk to the people he has on his podcast. Sometimes it might not work for you, the listener. (Joe Rogan is heavily involved with MMA/UFC which holds precisely zero interest for me), but other times, it's amazing. (His interviews with Leah Remini, Megan Phelps Roper, Michael Pollan and Candace Owens are all incredibly informative and interesting and not just on a surface level, but on a serious and deep one.)
Waking Up With Sam Harris isn't quite as free flowing as Joe Rogan is, but every issue he tackles, he tries to drill down to the absolute core of it. His interview with Andrew Yang is a perfect example of this. Yang is running for President on a platform of instituting Universal Basic Income to deal with what he feels is a coming tsunami of automation that will eliminate jobs and leave us in a situation where plenty of people will want to work and there just won't be any jobs for them to actually have. I don't know if Yang sold me on his article. I tend to find that a lot of prognostications do eventually come true, but never on the timescale that people predict. (Considering the fact that Uber is backing off of self-driving trucks right now, I'm inclined to think that maybe my skepticism is somewhat justified.) Wherever you stand on UBI (and there are good arguments for and against), by the end of that interview, I at least understood the issue more than I did before. I could see the arguments for it and against it and how it could be implemented, if needed. And more to the point, I could see a set of circumstances where, if automation kills all the jobs, then we'll have to do something and UBI at least is a legitimate 'something' to offer.
The Jordan Petersen Podcast is, of course, the podcast platform for the public intellectual of the moment, Professor Jordan Petersen. I began to hear Petersen's name not long after his interview with the BBC's Cathy Newman, which is one of the most fascinating examples of effective communication I've ever seen in media today. He listens intently, refuses to let Newman put words in his mouth and, more to the point, is very careful with his words. I think it's because he's been a Professor so long, but on occasion, he gets misrepresented in the media because his interviews tend to be a two way street. He'll ask the interviewer a question, posed as a hypothetical and of course, the media will twist that to imply that those are his actual views. Petersen's podcast so far seems to be a mix of his lectures, appearances on other podcasts/media and him interviewing other people. (His interview with Camille Paglia is incredible and a must listen.) I'm not sure what I think about Petersen overall yet- I think he's resonating because his writing and his thinking is appealing to something that people are looking for. I know that's an incredibly abstract statement, but it's hard to quantify why he's so popular. The culture overall is 'zigging' and he is offering a 'zag', if that makes sense.
I'm making my way through his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, so I'll be talking about Petersen some more at some point- but he's worth checking out. He's worth reading. He's worth listening to.
Here's the real takeaway from this trio of podcasts or hell, even the Intellectual Dark Web overall. It's... a possibility. Right now, we're wrestling with Russian meddling in our elections, disinformation campaigns on social media and a model for journalism that is absolutely not equipped to counter either problem effectively. The model for 'big journalism' is based on maximizing clicks and ad revenue, which means that most of the time, facts and any notion of truth is tossed aside in favor of narratives and sensationalism. Podcasting as a medium is fairly new and it's getting more diverse all the time, but I don't think we've seen the full potential of the medium achieved. When it comes to exploring issues, promoting civil discourse and generally learning about anything and everything out there in the world today, podcasting can do a lot. This trio and the Intellectual Dark Web overall, proves that.
I know I said that I'm not into prognostications, but deep dive podcasts like these are a possibility- I don't know if there's enough of them to call them an 'alternative' model to click bait/ad driven journalism, but there's a possibility they could be. And that possibility is interesting enough to make getting lost in the Intellectual Dark Web worth your time, energy and brain power.