#63 On collectively bottoming out
"The climate disaster equals the culture gap
In September, The New Yorker published a piece on Hasan Minhaj’s comedy special, which implied he’d made up most of his comedy special (the subtitle of the article reads in part: …the former “Patriot Act” host often recounts harrowing experiences he’s faced as an Asian American and Muslim American. Does it matter that much of it never happened to him?).
I saw—and remember seeing—the New Yorker headline when it came out, and I vaguely recall the story appearing in multiple outlets, and I recall the gist of what happened (Hasan Minhaj lied/was unethical/is unethical).
Now, I’ve never watched Hasan Minhaj’s comedy (I mean I did one time for less than five minutes), I don’t really know much about him, and before two days ago he was 100% not on my radar. But: I did see those headlines, and without question, believed ‘Oh this guy totally lied/what a fraud’.
To be 100% clear I did not jump to that conclusion because he’s brown (he’s South Asian) or Muslim (which I imagine influenced plenty of people’s knee-jerk reactions and the pick up by the press/virality of the accusation), but because he’s a wealthy, attractive, famous man who does comedy and therefor sits at the intersection of my greatest biases. And because The New Yorker said it.
Because why would The New Yorker, or any journalist for that matter, not tell the full, unbiased truth? Even though I know what it’s like on this side to work with reporters; even though I’ve had plenty of experience with my own words getting chopped up and printed out of context to make it sound like I said or meant something totally different than I intended.
The point is that I took the viral, sensational coverage that followed the original viral, sensational article and believed it, and I probably would have spent the rest of my life saying something like Oh I think that guy is a liar every time some future person brought up his work.
The process I just described—the forming of my opinion—took up perhaps ten seconds of my time, and that’s a very generous estimate because it was probably five seconds. I probably saw the original post (and skimmed past it) in my New Yorker daily newsletter or some Google alert, and then I probably saw one or two headlines from scrolling The Guardian or The New York Times that reinforced the accusations from the original article.
I say perhaps and probably because I have no fucking clue. None.
I passively read maybe three or four or five manipulative, clickbaity, salacious headlines on autopilot without any investigation or consideration or even engagement with the material, and my entire understanding and indictment of this one stranger was fully formed, iron-clad, and forever—and all this happened totally outside my conscious awareness.
This might beg the question: How do I know this happened if it was outside of my conscious awareness?
Because. I watched a talk on cancel culture on Tuesday, and a few hours later the algorithm suggested I might like to watch this guy who just got canceled’s official apology, which I did, and in doing so got the very rare opportunity to unearth just how fast I can form an entirely false conclusion without even knowing I had.
Yesterday YouTube—which usually suggests to me ASMR, unboxings, Mind Valley infomercials, and every cat video ever made—suggested I watch Hasan Minhaj’s apology/explainer, which is pretty much the last thing I would ever spend my time consuming. But I watched it. And it was excellent.
For starters, the production quality is outstanding, and I’m guessing he spent a lot of money and a lot of time creating it because it’s beautifully crafted and executed—it’s very similar to the Daily Show’s style of reporting (which makes sense because, as I found out after watching, he was a front runner for taking it over until the article came out—he apparently no longer is).
The video is also a meticulous accounting of the New Yorker interview and gives a rare glimpse into how articles get made and how people’s words can get twisted out of context. He goes point by point through the accusations leveraged against him, providing context, receipts, and—most damning to the reporter involved and their professional ethics (IMO)—the original transcript of the interview which shows she cherry-picked statements he made that led readers to conclusions that were outside of his intended meaning.
For instance, here’s a full statement he made to the reporter, captured in the transcript:
[Hassan Minhaj, on tape with reporter] “When people see a Hasan Minhaj show there's two different expectations—there's the Hasan Minhaj you see maybe here at the Comedy Cellar where there is an implicit agreement between the audience like ‘We're going down into a basement like we're about to see a 1-hour comedy show’ that feels like there's an emotional roller coaster ride. Then there's Hasan Minhaj, the guy you've seen on The Daily Show as a correspondent or the guy from PatriotAct on Netflix, which is, I am not the primary character, the news story is the primary character.
With the latter the truth comes first comedy sometimes comes second to make the infotainment—the sugar on the medicine. In this [stand-up] the emotional truth is first the factual truth is secondary.”
Which became this quote in the article without any of the context it was couched in:
[Reporter, New Yorker] “When it came to his stage shows, he told me, ‘the emotional truth is first. The factual truth is secondary.’”
The quote that ended up in the article, out of context and without the preceding statement, asserts that he feels, in general, that truth is secondary, which is not what he actually said in context, which creates an extreme issue for him, because it turns him into a liar, and because he happens to be up for taking over The Daily Show, and my guess is they don’t want a host that prioritizes ‘emotional truth’ over the factual kind1.
In my opinion (which is now being formed after 20 minutes of watching his explainer and an hour or so reading the original article and a few others against my initial five seconds of unconscious processing), he was ensnared and smeared (or even slandered but I’m not a lawyer).
A reporter went looking for a story, found it, and probably ruined this guy’s life. And I don’t mean ruined as in ruined his finances or prospects—from what else I have read he might have lost out on hosting the Daily Show but my guess is he’s going to be fine career-wise.
I’m talking about how forever, to millions of people who just like me spent around five seconds internalizing a headline they probably weren’t even consciously aware they were consuming, Hasan Minhaj will just be a liar.
What struck me about all of this (beyond how fucking easy I am to manipulate) was the larger context this lives in.
This—and by ‘this’ I mean  a fact check of a comedy sketch2 by a journalist that  dissolves immediately into a cancelation for claiming fake racism/upholding white supremacy/being a bad person  that turns into a fact check of journalism  set against the backdrop of a mammoth and global dissemination of mass disinformation and propaganda  that has rendered almost all information suspect (which was already happening, example, example) and created an online civil war where everyone hates everyone or at the very least mistrusts everyone and discourse has almost totally dissolved  and the emergence of a McCarthy-esque list-making campaign for the public demonstration of being on any ‘side’ at all or having any kind of an opinion that could be disagreed with—could only happen exactly now, exactly at this time.
When I say “exactly at this time”, I mean we are living at a time when truth-degradation that has been happening for years and started on the progressive left with postmodernism critique and its inherent deconstructionism (skepticism toward any absolute truth, questioning all power and systems, all meaning is context-based, the emergence of critical theory), and pluralism/relativism (the idea that everyone’s truth matters, and that all perspectives are both relative and equal3)—intersects with:
Emerging technologies like AI that threaten to dissolve the reliability of anything that lives on the internet (and that already has diminished it, substantially)
Uncontrollable and out of control Meganets that immediately and virally spread the most divisive, explosive, and salacious ideas
Algorithms that have flattened our tastes, sorted us into bits of data, and siloed us into our own echo chambers by serving us personalized information that only reinforces our pre-existing beliefs, world views, and biases and has normalized and exacerbated tribalism to mind-melting levels (I likework on this (I’ve read his forthcoming book), and this book, and this article is also a good example)
The informal purism and purity culture that has been building on the left4 (also see here, here, here) that demands performance, perfection, asserts there is only one right way, and that anyone who diverges or just simply fucks up has evil intent/is problematic/against the cause, and refuses to recognize that human beings across the globe exist on a spectrum of development and that people and cultures progress through value systems and develop awareness as it is available to them5 , and holds everyone across the globe to the standard of the most sophisticated, progressive, and developed world views
The degradation of connection and epidemic of loneliness that makes us (among many terrible things) paranoid, divided, and suspicious of each other
The overemphasis of the ‘problem’ being systemic, out there, and beyond our control, and the learned helplessness that arises from it (i.e., “capitalism did this to me”)
A global pandemic we never actually did anything to process, end-stage capitalism (full stop), an unfathomable deluge of information and content ABOUT EVERYTHING THAT IS HAPPENING EVERYWHERE that comes at us non-stop (and which we are expected to keep on top of lest we don’t know about something and say something wrong and are subject to reprimand/censure/cancellation) that together—along with everything else!—has left us traumatized, anxious, depleted, exhausted, overwhelmed, and barely surviving
Peak productivity/hack/meritocratic/individualistic culture that has us actually believe that if we just try harder at [EVERYTHING I JUST SAID] we will somehow overcome ‘it’ and that has you feeling like your resultant exhaustion/burnout/depression/exasperation/unspooling in response is a problem of your own making you are expected to fix
I could go on (and I mean that, I have a list, I didn’t even mention the wellness industrial complex, self-development as self-policing, cell phones and addictive technologies, the wealth gap, climate change, or any of the converging meta-crises, etc.) but you have to get the point by now.
The point is this is fucking insane.
We are living in peak insanity. And plenty of us are still getting out of bed and going to work and functioning and stuff. So congrats to us.
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There are at least a hundred directions I could—and want—to take this piece but the point for sharing this particular story (Hasan) was to highlight the absolute and total insanity of these times and to list out some of the existing themes it showcases but also to try and show what’s emerging, which I think is fascinating and exciting.
Because while yes, all the things listed above taken together create a basically intractable problem and an actual living hell on earth, they also form the solution.
We’ve hit the limit of our way of doing things, including the limit of postmodernism and deconstructionism and the limit of capitalism and the limit of the current dominant culture.
We are at the end of our ability to continue in the way we have been, which means we are on the precipice of the new, and the new, from everything I’ve been studying the last many years, is kind of wonderful, because the new is always in direct response to what came before.6 Imagine the opposite of every shitty thing about now, and you can see bits of it emerging if you’re looking for it.7
You can see it in the way enough human beings are moving toward a more inclusive dialogue that can hold multiple truths/perspectives at once (see the work of Natalie Wynn, Charles Eisenstein, Africa Brooke, adrienne marie brown, Sophie Strand, Kai Cheng Thom, Andrea Gibson, Bayo Akomolafe, Shelly Tygielsky, Justin Michael Williams, to name only a few8). You can see it in the way that enough of us are done with dehumanizing or making mortal enemies of one another over diverging ideas and beliefs (Africa Brooke, Clementine Morrigan). You can see it in the way that all of a sudden “love” and “peace” no longer seem like fuzzy implausible ideals of a bygone era or some spiritually bypassing statement, but a political strategy, and what we practically need, right now.
You can see it in real-time here because I’m publishing these ideas, and a few months ago I would have kept them to myself for fear of betraying my own purist progressivism.
In A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilber asserts that the environmental crisis is equal to the culture gap (the “culture gap”, in this context, is the distance between value and belief systems groups/tribes/individuals hold, like the distance between alt-right and Antifa).
In other words: Any large-scale, intractable issue of our time is not unsolvable because of a lack of emergent solutions or technology, but because we cannot overcome our differences or get over ourselves enough to work across discordant beliefs and values.
In still other words, he means: The climate disaster is equal to our intolerance. The climate disaster is equal to our finger-pointing and blame. The climate disaster is equal to how stuck we are on what they did wrong and what they need to do to make it right. The climate disaster is equal to how quickly I shut down discourse with that stranger I will never meet because they said one thing I did not like. The climate disaster is equal to the judgment I make about my cop neighbor. The climate disaster is equal to my ability to listen to someone who I think is ignorant or deplorable or woke or voted for the fascist candidate. The climate disaster is equal to whether or not I offer grace to the sales rep, or grace to the billionaire, or grace to the unhoused, or grace to the murderer.
Put yet another way: Our future depends on us being able to have nuanced conflict, uncomfortable conversations, common ground alongside divergent values, and above all, holding each other’s humanity—and our own—sacred.9
When I read that idea (that the climate disaster is the same thing as the culture gap) back in 2014 or 2015 it registered as absolutely correct but also as absolutely impossible, and this was before the 2016 election.
We are, as a nation and as a global community, broken, and the path back to each other has felt (to me) like something we might achieve after we blow each other to pieces or some other mass extinction event—as some last resort available only after the ship has gone down.
I no longer think it’s impossible, and that’s because of what’s happening right now, not despite it. I see the horror. But I also see the emergent possibility.
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12 Things right now + Further reading
An app that has changed my whole entire life, the most intense writing practice, the most intense warning about teetotaling, a really great album, how alcohol affects your morals, secrets of the highly disciplined, some good books, the Internet is dead, weed drinks, alcoholic lattes, cigfluencers, and 14 books/podcasts/talks to further explore today’s essay.
12 Things Right Now
A coach I was working with for ADHD recommended Flow Club, which is an app where you can book on-demand co-working/body-doubling sessions, and it’s significantly impacted my life for the better. It’s how I got this newsletter done and started a number of impossible tasks and it’s available 24×7. I cannot recommend it more.
Day 9 of Jason Chatfield’s No-Vember (a month-long daily email campaign to help you say no—highly recommend) which asserts that highly-disciplined people don’t rely on willpower—they just have fewer distractions.
Lauren Groff’s writing practice
“We can't move through the crises one by one and have the correct empathetic response to everything. It's simply not possible. And yet we are trying not to lose touch with our humanity. And so we just write "with everything happening in the world..." and hope it's enough for now.” Ann Friedman on how we process everything
I had no idea there was such a thing as ‘neo-prohibitionists’ but they exist and the wine industry is very serious about the threat posed by them
📚 It’s been a while since I’ve shared book recs, but some good ones I’ve finished recently include The Madonna Secret; Vaster Wilds; The Burnout Society; The Palliative Society; (basically anything by Byung-Chul Han); Brave New World; Grief is the Thing with Feathers; Instructions for Traveling West by.
Related: A fascinating interview and view into the life of latest crush Byung-Chul Han
FitBit but for friendships so now we can start quantifying how shitty we are at relationships
This album on repeat
💊🍺📱 weed drinks go on sale at retailers, ffs, SXSW gets bullish on psychedelics, Ohio becomes the 24th state to legalize recreational cannabis, the link between micro-aggressions and alcohol use, constructing billion-dollar drug treatment centers, study says a single alcoholic drink can shift your moral boundaries, a fascinating benefit of Asian Glow, I can’t believe this is even an article, alcoholic lattes, #cigfluencers
Further reading, resources to explore today’s essay
Books (so many! but here are a few I love on topic)
The Flowering Wand, Sophie Strand
The Burnout Society, Byung-Chul Han
Brendan Graham Dempsey
Emergent Strategy or We Will Not Cancel Us, adrienne marie brown
Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher
Me, We, Everybody series (Trace and Rob Bell)
This whole explainer by
(anything by Jesse Meadows)
“Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, Nicholas Carr
This talk—especially around the 48-minute mark where the speakers point out that fucked up people do fucked up things, and if we are in the habit of banishing every harmful person to some other place, we are creating a situation where there is nowhere for these people to go and actually creating an even bigger problem
And then if you look at something like this article, you’ll see how his original statement which was modified into a different meaning in the original article gets even further stripped down and used out of context when the press picks it up and writes an opinion piece.
which I have always believed to be mostly made up
These were all progressive and good (IMO) movements—they were corrections to what came before and are responsible for things like the idea that we should honor and elevate multiple viewpoints and perspectives, challenging the binary, questioning authority and power dynamics, liberation, equality, and on, but it’s important to note that most evolutions in thought correct for what came before or solve for the limitations from previous thought and value systems, but create their own set of problems. (See Wilber, Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality)
Also known (per Wilber) as “aperspectival madness” (the assertion that no perspective is better than another) and “performative contradiction” (the belief “no perspective is better than another” is in of itself a hierarchical statement, since it’s asserting itself as the supreme perspective, therefore creating a hierarchy over differing views)
Think of how the enlightenment (rational, modernity) and individuality/meritocracy was a response to what came before, which was organized religion (rule-based, communal>self, theistic), or how deconstructionism was a response to Grand Narratives, or how Gen Z doesn’t drink alcohol because all their Gen X parents owned beer bongs. We swing in the opposite direction.
I mostly “see it” in the circles and thinkers and schools of thought I pay attention to (for instance, how Metamodernism as a theory and cultural center of gravity (or cultural logic/meme) is moving into the mainstream conversation), and there are so many credible and visible examples of emergence of what comes after where we are there’s too many to list (along with how its also so subtle that it’s hard to name).
This is a really good example; you can hear in her dialogue how all-encompassing and multi-perspective her word choices are
This all has a major connection to recovery