The Daily

for 3 December 2022

While listening to Nate Hagens talk with Betsy Taylor (another newbie Vermonter!) about “nature based solutions” I finally realized why I am not fond of podcasts. To begin with, I don’t generally like listening to talk media because most of it is just horrible in all sorts of sociopathic and stupid ways. I’ve always switched the machine off when the talk began. So I thought that irritant was why I was not interested in listening to people talk about things that interest me. But that’s not entirely it.

It’s more that it is exclusionary. It is entirely passive for the listener. You are not part of the conversation. There is the subtext in that exclusion that implies that you are not qualified to be part of the conversation. You are not as important or smart or experienced or interesting as these talking voices. In this case of Betsy and Nate, you are not part of the solution.

This talk was about connectivity — more between humans than between humans and everything else — and grounding social activism in real world living. Presumably that topic would have no room for a focus on the individual. It should be inclusive. There should be many voices, many ideas, many perspectives, perhaps even imagined non-human views. But the conversation was centered on first person pronouns for just two humans. Which is necessary if you are going to talk about the experiences one has with a given subject. You have to say “I” a whole lot. So it’s not Besty or Nate or any of the other brilliant podcasters out there who are trying to talk about all our dilemmas. It’s the medium. It’s podcasting. This medium creates a rather insurmountable division between the talking “experts” and the listening “followers”, where the followers are just not part of the conversation — and, by inference, not part of the solution, nor even part of the problem.

So, maybe I’m just done listening. I’m not a very good passive listener anyway. Hence all this responsive scribbling. And you should see my books. I don’t use library books as much as I could primarily because I write prodigiously in all the white spaces. I could take notes elsewhere — and I do — but it’s more helpful for me to have the text and my response right on the same page. There are more connections made — and more notes…

I may still listen while I eat. Though I also don’t like that very much because I like focusing on the food. Or if it’s just the daily oatmeal or pot o’ something and doesn’t need a good deal of focus (and on cabbage weeks doesn’t bear a lot of focus), I like to read, particularly fiction.

I wonder how many other people react to podcasts the way I do. I wonder if those who are increasingly turning to using podcasts to communicate need to be aware of this reaction. This may not be the best medium to further the conversation, to find new paths forward. And for the record, it doesn’t even propose that there may be plural paths — this, when it seems rather implausible to find one solution that fits all bioregions and cultures. These podcasts are about “one solutions”. There may be many podcasts each with their own one solution, but you can only listen to one conversation at a time. And this mode of, at best, serial focus limits the field of ideas. Moreover, it’s just these two or three disembodied voices talking about one solution, not doing, and usually talking about what they’ve done. (And if it’s a solution that is already done, how effective is it at creating change…) So this medium adds another layer of abstraction to the already problematic one solution idea. It is just a story these experts are telling themselves, not a real-world way of being, The podcasted solution is not at all applicable to the audience.

In any case, I think maybe we need to think this medium through a bit…

The Calendar

The first weekend in December is traditionally when the tree is decorated. It is Boy Bishop and Tree Dressing Sunday. This is usually the second Sunday in Advent (or three Sundays before Christmas Day), though sometimes it can be the first. So the anticipation of Christmas is ratcheted up several notches this weekend. It is certainly looking like Yuletide in my household today. There will be pictures, I’m sure. Though not today because it’s dark and cold and raining, and it’s hard to take photos of things that feature sparkle and shine in this lack of ambient light.

The tradition of electing a Boy Bishop flowed from the ancient customs of turning the social order upside-down as the New Year approached. Like the Roman Lord of Misrule, the Boy Bishop puts all the trappings and officiating of the Church leaders in the hands of someone with no claim to superiority. This has the effect of showing just how empty those titles of king and bishop are — if a peasant or a child can do it… So it keeps leaders humble. Sort of.

It also allows the rest of us who are not leaders to relax a bit. Let off some steam. Allow licentiousness and anarchy to reign. There is a good deal of evidence showing that this is the natural human state, that leadership is a recent imposition, one that we aren’t generally fond of but that we haven’t quite figured out how to eliminate… yet… So there are traditions all around the world in every hierarchical culture that turn the hierarchy on its head — or just topple it entirely — for a brief and special time, usually associated with in-between times like new years and new seasons.

The Boy Bishops used to be chosen from choristers on St Nicholas’ Day, 6 December, St Nick being the patron saint of children. But the Church of England shed many Catholic saints, St Nick among them. (And then, much later, the Catholic Church got rid of him along with many others in the 1969 reforms). But the people would not be denied their tiny Lords of Misrule. So the election was moved to the first Sunday in December — which had the advantage of being a day when most people were at church, unlike the saints’ days which were celebrated by a more limited segment of the population. The term of office is still “officially” from 6 December, St Nick’s Day, to 28 December, the Feast of the Holy Innocents (the day to remember those infant boys slaughtered by Herod in his effort to rid himself of the rumored upstart challenger to his crown). Among other official trappings, if the Boy Bishop happened to die in office — which, being in December, was not all that unusual for a small child — the boy was given a Church burial with the full pontificals of his office: mitre, cross and cope.

Currently Reading

I just started R. F. Kuang’s Babel (Harper Voyager, 2022). And — oh dear heavens! — is this book ever written precisely for me. Kuang reimagines an Oxford and a Victorian English empire centered on a language-based magic called silver-working — basically embodying meaning and mastery into enchanted silver bars (giving new meaning to the British pound). Highly recommend this one. You may be on a wait list at the library for a while, but it’s worth the wait. Or… it’s also worth buying this one — because I can’t imagine getting everything out of this multicultural and deeply questioning book in just one reading.

A side note…

I’m finding that I can’t do this posting every day. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Not if I want to sleep. Which I do… So I think most weekends are not going to have Daily posts. Though if there are calendrical things — as there are in December! — there will be short posts.

©Elizabeth Anker 2022

3 thoughts on “The Daily”

  1. I listen to podcasts mostly while I am doing laundry and cleaning the house. I agree with you that many of them have the one-sidedness thing happening that you dislike. There are others though that do encourage participation but you need to be a financial supporter, for instance Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human has a community forum. I am not a financial supporter of it so I don’t know what the forum is like beyond knowing it exists. I also listen to The War on Cars and they respond to listener questions and feedback sometimes on their show, but more frequently on Twitter. That said, I prefer podcasts that talk about news stories and bring in information I didn’t know about, or that talk to people who are doing work of some kind–scientists, writers, etc–about their work and projects. I’m not interested in ones that offer solutions or answers, etc, because they don’t work for everyone everywhere. I like ones that open doors and make me think or see something in a new way.

    Glad to hear Babel is good. I’ve heard buzz about it but I never trust buzz.

    I watched Spirited last night and really enjoyed it! Thanks for the rec!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Despite my many interests and concerns, I seldom listen to podcasts. I have a friend who is a successful author (nonfiction) and maintains a highly informative website. She decided last year to stop writing for her website and do weekly podcasts. Her focus is quite narrow due to her expertise and large audience but many of the podcasts are downright painful to listen to. She brings in well-known people in her field and most of them are either quite introverted or have under-developed communication skills. She is not an energetic interviewer and when there are long silences, she fills them with gushing compliments for her guest. I hear this on other podcasts I listen to: celebrity treatment is half of the discussion. It’s now the new medium for marketing so I have a natural resistance to it because of that..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Podcasts and their Discontents
    Some podcasts are about telling from one or perhaps 2 or 3 experts to those who need to know what the experts know. I believe the medium is now able to exploit how teachers with chalkboards used to do it. Peter Kan, MD, has recently done some podcasts with lively hand drawings of connections between elements, with directional (and sometimes bi-directional) arrows. Much better than just talking.

    Some podcasts are one way because of what is being communicated: a musical performance, for example. Or Picasso painting.

    Some podcasts are information updates for people who know something but may not be abreast of the latest developments in the minds of leaders. That was my position while listening to Nate and Betsy talk. My particular interest is the regenerative agriculture (Agroecology, Pemaculture, etc.) angle. What I mostly learned in this particular instance was that there is still a wide gap between energy realists and green crusaders. And that the culture at large is still clueless. I didn’t learn anything technically. I would have stopped listening except that I wanted to try to figure out what was bothering you.

    If the goal is joint problem solving, then I fall back on the use of a meeting with reams of easel paper and markers and wall space to display it all. A meeting doesn’t always work. The Royal Society in London recently convened a group of experts to determine what is really causing the global obesity epidemic. The conclusion was that they were unable to reach a conclusion.

    Don Stewart

    Liked by 1 person

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