Podcasts, positivism and "explainerism"

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/12/15/podcasts-positivism-and-exp.html


Love of Shopping is Not a Gene

For realz, it’s a thing.


Looking backwards and forward I see the rise of Trumpism as a death blow of sorts to the milquetoast banality of liberal “explainerism”, especially as propagated by NPR and PBS. I believe they are, in some respects, making our weak democratic institutions even worse by purveying the story line of the helpless liberal that never wins. Yes NPR can be worse than fox news because Fox news knows how to deliver results.

What good does it do If I watch a 2 hour segment on how U.S. roads and bridges are collapsing, or that the middle east is blowing up, or if corporate America sucking down everything tasting of money while weak regulators are helpless against it. Call my Senator?

It adds the the common helplessness that leads people to dismiss small, local political organizing in favor of large exciting pop culture saturated national electoral spectacles. I know because I live in Trumpland (Western PA) and this is how it goes.

NPR listeners should drop the donations to their local station, and instead rent a room, hang up a picture of Neil Degrasse Tyson or whatever symbol they can agree on for motivation and figure some sh#t out.

Listening alone doesn’t accomplish anything people.


Welcome to BB, comrade.


All these podcasts do is bring up ideas for us to think about. Is that so bad?



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I may have ranted but it’s because I enjoy these shows.

My takeaway is what do these programs motivate us to accomplish?

Are we motivated to start organizing, building the future we want? Or are we stuck in a mode of inactive wishfulness that somebody else will do it? All while orange hitler ensures the only way to get breathable air is through weekly automated amazon.com gas powered drone deliveries.


I once saw a clip of an interview with Joanna Angel (a porn creator) about whether or not pornography is misogynist. She said that everything is a product of culture, and we live in a misogynist culture, so most porn is going to be misogynist, but that’s not an inherent feature of films of people having sex.

Here I am seeing the same thing discussed with NPR shows. Are they good, are they bad? They are a product of a culture that still hasn’t found it’s way out of the darkness of neo-liberalism/neo-conservativism. “There is no such thing as society” is a pervasive cultural attitude, so it’s no wonder that micro-level brain stuff is seen as the cause of things instead of macro-level social stuff.

I don’t listen to these shows and I don’t know how valid the criticism is. I would have hoped that the people making shows like this would be more conscious of the culture of individualism they exist in and would be making shows specifically to present a different perspective (like I assume from Angel’s comment that she tries to make non-misogynist porn). I feel a little disheartened (well, not by the Freakonomics Radio one, Freakonomics is the poster child for broken products of an individualist society).


Damn, I wish I’d said that.


exceptional comment

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Reminds me of that South African student who wanted to “decolonize” science, asking people to respect the claims of those who can summon lightning with magic.

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I listen to RadioLab, 99% Invisible and other podcasts like that. (I don’t particularly like Freakonomics).

I honestly just find them interesting and informative and often creative. I don’t get the sense that they’re trying to explain anything more than what they are talking about. Or that they are asserting that their “explanation” is the only thing you need to know or that individual choices are the only thing that matters.

I do think there’s a danger in using anecdotes or cherry-picked facts as evidence of broader truths. Malcom Gladwell is someone who I think does that a lot.


I am personally on the record as being against RadioLab.

I’m careful to make time-stamped and notarized recordings denouncing all things popular or likely to become popular so that after they jump the shark, I can prove how ahead of the trend I was by signaling my disdain for trend X. Of course I also record denouncements of my denouncements for when they come back into fashion decades later. [damn, @Modusoperandi must be rubbing off on me!]


So what will you do after both carefully making time-stamped and notarized recordings denouncing all things popular or likely to become popular so that after they jump the shark, you can prove how ahead of the trend you were by signaling your disdain for trend X and also recording denouncements of your denouncements for when they come back into fashion decades later become popular?


I must be a bad, shallow person, because I just love Radiolab.

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Oh, “Radio”

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I agree wholeheartedly. A lot of this information is published in a spirit of wishful thinking that if the public just knew about some obvious injustice, they’d get mad and organize against it, but the reality is that most people don’t have the time or energy to write a letter to their senator for each of the 10 or 12 appalling things that show up in their feeds every morning. When you constantly overload people with narratives of plundering plutocrats and ignorant masses, all it does is make them feel even more helpless and alienated.

We all know the system is bent. Our collective indignation has been maxed out already. What we need are stories that invite us to participate in some kind of solution. The 60’s counterculture worked because it didn’t just try to suck you in with guilt and indignation. It offered an antidote—a community based upon values that you shared—and, not incidentally, a heck of a lot of fun. We need to stop wasting our energy making each other aware of how bad everything is, and start looking for alternatives that we can all join in together.


Anything that raises the information level of Americans needs to be applauded and supported. There’s just too many “low information” people, and those willing to take advantage of them like in the recent election. Just look at the post about the Trump voter who is dismayed that he might actually take away her insurance like he promised.

Should I post again my NSF clipping about about how 55 percent of adult Americans don’t know that the Earth revolves around the sun once a year? This is what the explainers are up against. How can you explain global warming to someone who doesn’t know what a “year” is?