#26 of Podcast

#26 of Podcast

I’m back for a season of great conversation and stream of consciousness monologueing on the state of teh modern world. In this episode, I talk about the movie ‘My Dinner with Andre’ which provides a chilling warning about the roboticization of life in the modern world, specifically set in New York City.

Radically Human; Episode #26. / / Youtube link

Send a voice message @ https://anchor.fm/frieda-vizel/message


Transcript:

Okay, let’s see. Hi, I’m Frieda Vizel and this is Radically Human.

Here’s another season of podcasting. The second season, renamed, refocused will be centrally concerned with understanding and critiquing our modern society. The technocratic, capitalistic system we’re in, which is transitioning increasingly towards a more transhumanist economy. Last season, I started as just a Brooklyn based, resident and tour guide, always interested in understanding the modern world around me. And this, this question is where that series of 25 or so episodes got me; to focusing on the mechanical inventions that are driving society.

We have a tradition we’ve been having for years and years, that every Friday night, we watch a movie. Generally Friday night, I do a little Jewish observance, Shabbes tradition — light candles… we do a little bit of singing… we dress up and then we dress down again into stretchy clothing… and fall onto the sofa and watch a movie while eating a tremendous amount of junk food. See, my relationship with movies is becoming increasingly tense. I didn’t grow up with any movies or TV. I didn’t know, watch anything, I think until I was maybe 20. With the exception, here and there. I’m thinking, I once was on a charter bus that had these little overhang movies, and it played ‘Baby Day Out.’ And I remember it so well because I was so enamored with it. And I would run it over in my head days and days afterward. It was just absolutely the most dazzling, dazzling thing I could have seen. I thought it was brilliant on every level. And I loved it. And years later, I read the reviews. And I saw someone write that it was a terrible film, which really burst my bubble. I was very unhappy with this unenthusiastic participant of this joyous piece of ‘cinema’. And they wrote that the baby’s laugh was horribly fake. I don’t know, looking back, is this a fake laugh?

[Baby Day Out audio plays]

I don’t know. What’s a fake laugh, what’s real is very hard to distinguish anymore.

But see, from that place, where movies were so enchanting to me and magical and fountains of creative thinking, I’m very easily dazzled by something that takes me by surprise, it feels like original thinking. I’ve come a really, really long way. And I don’t say particularly as a good journey. I am talking about having been exposed enough to these movies to see that they’re not actually creative. They’re simply all regurgitating the same template plot and just dressing it in different clothing and it gets very tiresome and uninspired. The other day, I had my two little neighbors, these little girls there, maybe five or six, that were over here, and they wanted to watch… I asked ‘what do you want to watch’ and they said they want to watch ‘Beauty and the Beast’. And I haven’t seen it in years. I had seen it once. I thought it was lovely. And that was all I remembered. And while it was playing these two little girls are dancing and they know the lyrics by heart. They knew the text by heart and their eyes are popping. They are glowing with every little bit of the plot. And all I see is a horrible, nightmarish story that is indoctrinating these little kids into concepts of beauty, femininity, and submissiveness that I think any basic common sense woman – I’m not talking about a feminist woman -I’m saying anyone with a head on her shoulders would have any time in the past said: I know that’s he’s no good.

It isn’t archaic as much as it seems to glamorize a romance which is of course a modern concept since we were able to have the luxury of romance in relationships instead of it being a pure transactional economic family unit… maybe I shouldn’t say transactional as much as it was pragmatic, a pragmatic relationship where two families would say let’s bind together and we’ll give each other our kids to create that commitment. And of course with modernity, with the luxury of time and luxury of relationships, and with the enlargement of our connection circles, we have romance and the entire enchanting concept of winning hearts and love at first sight.

And this romance is horrifying. in Beauty and the Beast, the romance goes like this, this old bent-over knobby gentleman gets lost in the woods and can’t find his way back. So he enters this broken-down mansion where he finds nobody. But it turns out it belongs to this horrendous, infuriated beast who has a tendency to unleash a storm of venom at anyone who rubs him the wrong way. And The Beast takes him hostage. When his young daughter, this beautiful young girl, is so desperate to free her father, that she offers the beast to be a prisoner instead. So the way that this couple meets within this new concept – we don’t anymore have the parents setting up marriages – the romantic dazzling concept is that she offered herself in order to make sure her father doesn’t suffer as a prisoner in horrible conditions in the beast’s house. And, and… the Beast gives her much better accommodations than he gave the father. The father was in this cell locked up and she gets free rein of the house. So we already know this man is not a good person… or beast, I suppose. And from there, we only see more and more reasons to never ever consider a relationship with this man a positive development in Belle’s life. But instead, Belle infuriates the beast by escaping, and she gets attacked and he saves her. He saves her after having put her life in danger. If he hadn’t created all these conditions in the first place, he wouldn’t have to come in and be the savior. But now that he’s the Savior and he got hurt in the process of saving her. He gets to be thanked. Here’s the scene.

Movie Clip 7:00
Belle: “Now oh don’t do. Just hold still.”

Beast: “That hurt!”

Belle: “If you’d just hold still it wouldn’t hurt as much!”

Beast: “If you hadn’t run away, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Belle: “If you hadn’t frightened me I wouldn’t have run away.”

Beast: “Well, you shouldn’t have been in the West Wing!”

Belle: “Well, you should learn to control your temper… Now hold still, this might sting. By the way, thank you for saving my life.”

Frieda Vizel 8:00
Thank you for saving my life. That’s what she says. Watching these little girls taking these words and dance with joy with every song… You just can see them imbibing messages about what it means to be liked, what it means to be appreciated. What it means to be a beautiful woman, a desirable woman, a woman that all the men in the tavern are fighting over. You can see them imbibing messages that are so incredibly toxic. I was this close to taking the entire TV and just dropping it out the window. (The garden out the window is shut off. So that’s never a worry because we can’t have access to gardens. But that’s beside the point.)

So… When it comes to movies, they are not only so saturated with tropes and a lack of originality, they are also so filled with a messaging that shapes a very toxic, very, very unhealthy culture. That, in fact, venerates consumerism, it venerates a life of value in these exterior markers of success. Only things that are able to be translated in screen language are celebrated because of movies. So things that you can’t really capture like having great thoughts, like having inner peace, are not promoted through movies. And movies are our central… movies and TVs are our central vehicles of indoctrination. I suppose the internet is also now playing a big role. But these visual, these visual performances on the screen, are our cultural values. And they are the primary vehicle through which the public is being, for use of a very extreme word, brainwashed. Through which the public is being primed to believe that the progressive myth, the myth of increasing progress, visible progress… that the world can become better and better and better and more equal and more fair, through these inventions. All these things I talked about in my first season of the podcast, this progressive myth, is transmitted through movies. And the progressive myth’s ideal life is as well, for instance, romance and youth and bullshit career and educational attainments, and so on and so forth.

So, the other day, we’re sitting down for Friday night, and generally, we can never decide on a movie, the only thing we can really decide on is that food is always good. I absolutely love chips. I’ve always loved chips. And it’s really my indulgence, so I could just watch the chips, to be honest… it would be better. So the other night someone recommended I watch a movie titled ‘My Dinner with Andre‘, or Andrea. I think it’s Andre. I don’t know.

And going in, I had no idea what I was going to expect. Usually, I don’t like movies if they’re too artsy. I suppose I don’t have an acquired taste. I just like some good old storytelling. I like to see some original thinking. I don’t like violence. I’m too much of a softy for almost all of these intense movies. So I sit down and watch ‘My Dinner with Andre.’ And it is the strangest little movie. It is just an hour and a half of recording a meal between two people. They’re having a meal in a nice restaurant, and we hear the music and we see the waiters refilling their glasses and we see them eat a little bit. Essentially, we’re just party to the conversation. And that’s about it, which makes it so unusual. And you think it would be very boring. In the beginning, it starts with this guy Wally narrating and saying… you see him on the subway in the subway of 1980… The film was published in 1981, I believe. And the subway is… it’s very fun to look at the subway. It is absolutely covered in graffiti. It is nothing like what it is today. So he lives in New York City, Wally, and he is an aspiring actor. And he’s on his way on the subway to a meal and you just see his face while you hear the narration. And he’s talking about going to meet his friend Andre’, who he is not eager to meet. He hasn’t seen Andre’, a playwright, for many years, and he’s heard that Andre has gotten into some weird stuff. And Andre is having some meltdowns and seems Andre is not okay. And he feels like he himself has all of these problems, financial problems. Life is too hard. He got roped into meeting with Andre but he feels like he’s not in the position to be anyone’s therapist and be anyone’s sounding board. So he’s extremely stressed about getting through this meal and is preoccupied with his own series of bills and problems and all he wants to do is be at home and have a hearty meal with his girlfriend, Debbie. So we watch him meet Andre and there’s an awkwardness in the way they hug, in the body language, that’s very, very interesting, very charming. And at first, the conversation is Andre regaling and reporting on all of his adventures apparently. Andre seems to have had some kind of midlife crisis. And he’s gotten to traveling to India and Tibet and to meeting these monks and getting involved all these cultish artists, hippie commune kind of things, talking to fruits and vegetables and hallucinating. And Wally charms him. But as the night goes along, and Wally warms up, Wally starts to engage him. And challenge Andre’s ideas. And they have a really interesting sort of debate. What I would say is really zaftig schmooze. A zaftig schmooze, which of course, is a Yiddish word — zaftig is something that is juicy… we don’t use zaftig as fat in my native Yiddish vernacular. We also don’t use schmooze as some kind of pernicious… I’ve been told that I might communicate wrong messages by using the word schmooze, but to be a schmoozer, a zaftig schmoozer, where I come from, is an art. It’s a real something that is extra… it’s mm. It is like good food. Someone who is a zaftig schmoozer, you go over to pick something up from their house and you find two hours later, you haven’t left and you beat yourself up, but you still can’t leave. It’s I think not something that can really happen at the snap of a finger, it has to do with personality types… certain rapport charisma… but also, I think it’s something that you hone. An ability to… you have to have your ideas filled up in your own head. So you want to share and you have to have developed your ideas. If you have no thoughts, then the schmooze is just not going to happen. And between Wally and Andre, it just seems to sort of burst forth… this debate, which is now 40 years later, so timely, so timely. And the questions they discuss are, what about this modern society? What does it mean to be human? And see, Wally is much more of your ordinary, we might say, normie. He wants the comforts of life. And he thinks life is hard enough, he doesn’t want any challenges. While Andre thinks that the very process of making your life more comfortable is actually ultimately a process of alienating yourself, of to some degree, cutting yourself off from something. Here’s their conversation.

Wally 16:00 “We live in this dream world, because we do so many things every day that affect us in ways that somehow we’re just not aware of. You know, I was thinking, last Christmas, Debbie and I were given an electric blanket. And I can tell you that it is just such a marvelous advance over our old way of life. And it is just great. But it is quite different from that having an electric blanket. And I sometimes sort of wonder, Well, what is it doing to me? I mean, I sort of feel I’m not sleeping quite in the same way.”

Andre: “No you wouldn’t be.”

Wally: “I mean, my dreams are sort of different. And I feel a little bit different. When I get up in the morning.”

Andre: “I wouldn’t put an electric blanket on for anything. First, I’d be worried I get electrocuted. I don’t trust technology. But I mean, the main thing, Wally, is that I think that that kind of comfort just separates you from reality in a very direct way. I mean, if you don’t have that electric blanket, and your apartment is cold, and you need to put on another blanket, go into the closet and pile up coats on top of the blanket you have, well, then you know it’s cold. And that sets up a link of things. You have compassion for the… well, is the person next to you. And there are other people in the world who are cold. What a cool night. I like the cold. My god. I never realized I don’t want a blanket. It’s fun being cold, I can snuggle up against you even more because it’s cold. All sorts of things occur to you. Turn on that electric blanket and it’s like taking a tranquilizer. It’s like being lobotomized by watching television. I think you enter the dream world again. What does it do to us Wally, living in an environment with something as massive as the seasons, or winter or cold, don’t in any way affect us? I mean, we’re animals after all. I mean, what does that mean? I think that means that instead of living under the sun and the moon and the sky and the stars, we are living in a fantasy world of our own making.”

Wally: “Yeah, but I mean, I would never give up my electric blanket, Andre, I mean, because New York is cold in the winter. I mean, our apartment is cold. It’s a difficult environment. I mean, our lives are tough enough as it is I’m not looking for ways to get rid of the few things that provide relief and comfort. I mean, on the contrary! I’m looking for more comfort because the world is very abrasive. I mean, I’m trying to protect myself, because really, they’re these abrasive beatings to be avoided everywhere you look.”

Andre: “But why don’t you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you like to be comfortable, and I like to be comfortable too. But comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility. I mean, my mother knew a woman, Lady Hatfield, who was one of the richest women in the world. And she died of starvation because all she would eat was chicken. I mean, she just like chicken, Wally, and that was all she would eat. Actually, her body was starving, but she didn’t know it because she was quite happy eating a chicken and so she finally died. See, I honestly believe that we’re all like Lady Hatfield now. We’re having a lovely, comfortable time with our electric blankets in our chicken. And meanwhile, we’re starving because we’re so cut off from contact with reality that we’re not getting any real sustenance. Because we don’t see the world. We don’t see ourselves. We don’t see how our actions affect other people.”

Frieda Vizel 19:00
This is something I think about a lot. Because, of course, my mother has been telling me again and again how it’s so hot, so hot in Brooklyn, you go out you get just… hit by that hot air. And it almost feels like a hot fan, like someone had released the car heating system onto the streets. And I did a 5k yesterday and I could barely breathe, it’s so humid. The wetness, you’re sweating from everywhere. Very unpleasant. And I talked to my mother on the phone, she comes to Boro Park to visit my grandmother. So she’s here and she keeps reporting on weather in the city. And say, “oh, how grateful we have to be that we have air conditions. How very grateful we have to be.” And she gets into these memories of having been a young kid and having come straight… She was a very young child, when she came to New York, and settled here from Czechoslovakia, her parents were Holocaust survivors, having had extremely, extremely difficult lives, first, in the war in the concentration camps, having had all of those losses, and then in their communist regime ordeals and the whole process of escaping was in itself, very, very hard. So here they were in New York immigrants with barely anything to scrape together. And life was very, very difficult when she was a young child. The way she talks about her memory of a tangerine, you think… you can taste how juicy it is.

So she has these vivid memories of waking in this sweltering Brooklyn apartment in the summer and being so hot, you couldn’t sleep… you don’t know where to comfort yourself. And you go this way, and that way, and you’re up all night, and now wants to do anything for days. So she keeps telling me, “ugh, we have so much to be grateful for” when she talks about these technologies. This is ironic, because of course, she’s this very, very old-fashioned conservative, very religious woman, and in some ways, rejects all technologies, including TV and movies and the Internet. And she doesn’t even text, she doesn’t even have text on her phone. Yet she is the advocate in our regular conversations of these comforts of life that are – not entertainment, but they are the comforts that still, as Andre says, alienate us, or puts us at remove of the physical reality. And I think this remove is very, very wide for us in the secular public because of how much we live in this so-called virtual world. So my mother keeps telling me, “oh, you have no idea how it was in the winter… and these horrible landlords would only give us four hours of heat. And we were freezing, we couldn’t move.” And you know, I think about it. I don’t know, per se what technology can do for us and what it cannot. And I think most people who will look at technology critically are not Luddites. We are simply interested in the very question that they are discussing at this meal, which is — to what degree are we doing something to ourselves by removing ourselves from these realities? To what degree are we losing something by becoming increasingly connected to a non-physical non-3D world? Dy being at removes from our bodily experiences, which are so important for communicating to our mind? It’s how we live in the world… To what degree are we changing everything that’s been meant to be human until now? And really, what do we lose? What do we want to keep? And what do we want to lose?

And what’s really wonderful about this conversation between these two men, is that they are able to discuss this in a way that is pleasurable. They are not trolling each other. They’re not trying to be provocative. They are not trying to hurt each other. Rather, they’re trying to express their ideas with full curiosity at what the other has to say. And that also, I think, is an art that you really can only really have in person. I really am convinced that something happens when you’re in person that makes us want to understand each other that is lost in the virtual world. It’s part of why I am a tour guide. And I’m convinced that I will be a tour guide until… past my old age past being in a wheelchair… y’know, I’ll be doing it until I’m forced to retire. Not because it’s particularly great work but because it allows me to be in the physical world, and I find that people are just different. They’re opener. There’s a difference in how people relate to each other. People are never ever as nasty in person. Neither myself nor others, as they would be online. And this desire to hear each other… you get out of it… in, for instance, the movie my dinner with Andre… you get out of it a lovely, thought-provoking piece.

By the way, it’s coming down really hard. We have a lot of rain, hopefully, that’s going to ease some of the humidity. But you hear these really, really loud droplets, in the background, it’s very, very lovely.

But, you know, the most important moment to the film. And this leads me to mentioning it here in this sort of return podcast episode, captures, I think the way many of us feel at this point, at this moment. And he says it very, very powerfully, and well.

Wally 25:00 Well, why do you think that is? I mean, why is that? I mean, is it just because people are lazy today? Or they’re bored? I mean, are we just like, bored, spoiled children who’ve just been lying in the bathtub all day, just playing with their plastic duck, and now they’re just thinking, Well, what can I do?

Andre Okay, yes. We are bored. We’re all bored now. But has it ever occurred to you, Wally, that the process that creates this boredom that we see in the world now, may very well be a self-perpetuating unconscious form of brainwashing, created by a world totalitarian government based on money, and that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? And it’s not just a question of individual survival Wally, but that somebody who’s bored is asleep, and somebody who’s asleep will not say no? See, I keep meeting these people… I mean, just a few days ago, I met this man whom I greatly admire, Swedish physicist, and he told me that he no longer watches television, he doesn’t read newspapers, and he doesn’t read magazines. He’s completely cut them out of his life. Because he really does feel that we’re living in some kind of Orwellian nightmare now, and that everything that you hear now contributes to turning you into a robot. And when I was at Finhorn, I met this extraordinary English tree expert, who had devoted his life to saving trees.. he just got back from Washington lobbying to save the Redwoods… He’s 84 years old, and he always travels with a backpack, cause he never knows where he’s going to be tomorrow. And when I met him at Finhorn, he said to me, where are you from? And I said, in New York, he said, ah New York yes, that’s a very interesting place. Do you know a lot of New Yorkers who keep talking about the fact that they want to leave but never do? And I said, Oh, yes. And he said, Why do you think they don’t leave? I gave him several of my theories. He said, Oh, I don’t think it’s that way at all. He said, I think the New York is the new model for the new concentration camp, where the camp has been built by the inmates themselves. And the inmates are the guards. And they have this pride in this thing they built. They built their own prison. And so they exist in a state of schizophrenia, where they have both guards and prisoners. And as a result, they no longer have having been lobotomized the capacity to leave the prison they’ve made, or to even see it as a prison. And then he went into his pocket, and he took out a seed for a tree and he said, This is a pine tree. He put it in my hand and he said, escape, before it’s too late.

See, actually for two or three years now, Chiquita, and I’ve had this very unpleasant feeling that we really should get out. And we really do feel like Jews in Germany in the late 30s. Get out of here. Of course, the problem is where to go, because it seems quite obvious that the whole world is going in the same direction. See, I think it’s quite possible that the 1960s represented the last burst of the human being before it was extinguished. And that this is the beginning of the rest of the future now. That from now on, they’ll simply be all these robots walking around, feeling nothing, thinking nothing. And there’ll be nobody left almost, to remind them that there once was a species called a human being with feelings and thoughts, and that history and memory are right now being erased. And soon, nobody will really remember that life existed on the planet.

Frieda Vizel 28:00
What does it mean to be human?

You know, to live your life as a huge series of paperwork and tasks, and always attached to your online reputation and your credit score and your business reviews and your online reviews. And your resume.

My son who’s 15, to apply for a summer job needed to fill out five pages of application that put his whole 15-year-old being into these categories, these boxes, and… it’s absolutely turning people into robots. Here you need two references, here you need three volunteering, here you need two hobbies, here you need to alma maters. Here you need bypass jobs, whatever. It’s all… all… never going to capture the whole of any human. It will never do justice to anything except, it will turn people into little robots trying to acquire these things as if they’re in video games, checking off lists of, I need to do this, I need to do that I need to do this… It’s a terrible prospect to send a kid into that world, to see as this world is being built. To see that we are becoming these robots.

And I don’t have a seed, I don’t have where to plant the seed. And many of us don’t. And we are watching the prison be built around us. And we don’t want to be guards. We want to be human. We just want to be human.

So I changed the podcast name, you might have noticed. Why? I suppose it just felt the old one didn’t fit anymore. Maybe I’ll change it again some time. I didn’t particularly love the name, I didn’t feel like it was inspired. I didn’t feel like the old name really fit. I didn’t feel like I was there anymore. When I started, I was thinking of different subjects. And now, I think Radically Human is more appropriate for where I am. Why radically human? Well, radical is one of those words that are very much misunderstood. A lot of people think radical is extreme. If someone is a radical, they’re an extremist. Radical, technically means root, the mathematical radical is the root. The radical three, I think, is the square root of three. I’m not sure something like it is how my son explained it to me. But certainly radical, when we use the term, ‘someone is a radical’, it means that they get to the root of something, they look at things from its very root by peeling away a lot of layers of assumptions, a lot of layers of societal norms, and of things that we are accultured to, and you look at the very root of where issues are coming out of, and you address it from that very root. So I have a very silly, absurd example. Just how I understand it. For instance, let’s say, if there was a weird trend, that everyone wants to have a unibrow and unibrow is considered extremely attractive and desirable, and the right person with a right unibrow will be a model and make a fortune of money and a celebrity and it opens a whole economic avenue for brow implants and brow growth products and brow shaping and brown coloring, and I just see it all — rainbow color on the brow, and shaped in all sorts of specific ways. And you eat this special diet… and nutritionists who tell you… there’s an infinite number of technologies and quackery and hacks and bullshit that can be sold and account of convincing you that this will improve your brow. And if we have this unibrow-aspiring culture, then you can look at the problem of too much pressure. And I could just see it, The New York Times would run these articles about maybe we have too much pressure… we should accept our kids the way they are… it’s okay if they don’t have the most beautiful brow… And then some supposedly socialists would run a column saying that we need to provide vouchers to those of low income so they could also afford to improve their brows because otherwise there is an inequity of opportunity. And those who are more hardline will say no, if you’re not born with the right brow, too bad, blah, blah, blah. And then there are going to be those who are contrarians and intentionally have three brows or more bizarre looks, and so forth. We can go to absurd lengths in the example. But I take the example just to be able to think outside the box – it’s much easier to think outside the box about something that is completely out there.

Because the radical perspective is, why do you need a unibrow in the first place? You look at — where did we get this cultural desire from? And how can we unravel it? Why do we need to have this contrived fad, and then apply so much value on to something that doesn’t have an inherent value? There is no inherent value attached to someone walking around like a big fat doofus with that manicured, groomed, and chemically modified facial hair. So the radical perspective would seek to unravel the assumption that one kind of eyebrow is better than another and would see the social pressures that have made it a commodity as the root of the problem and unravel those social pressures and say why actually… maybe let’s let go of that. And this is exactly, for instance, why radical feminists who will often be much more inclined to be those who believe that women shouldn’t have to treat their body hair, will say you should accept that this is how women are. Why do we need to consider our, for instance, natural armpit hair as unnatural… that’s a social construct. The whole reaction ‘it’s gross!’ is something we have established. Why do we have to spend too much money and time and energy? And once you unravel it, you come to a position where you say this has been established by peer pressure, we should stand up to the peer pressure, instead of acknowledging the peer pressure and validating the peer pressure. Instead of giving poor people money, to be able to also beautify themselves by these ludicrous standards, we remove ludicrous standards themselves. So in other words, we’re really getting to the bottom of where things come from, and asking ourselves and addressing them from that place. So to be radically human, is to be able to look at what are our expectations of ourselves? What do we think is valuable in ourselves? What do we think is valuable in others? What makes us successful? To see all of these items that we are told make us valuable– our jobs, our careers, all of these trappings of success, all of these exterior elements… To look at those and ask ourselves where we take it from and if it actually gives us value? Why do we think this makes us valuable? And to then say what actually provides value? Where does it come from? A more inherent value? What isn’t just created by social pressure, childish, almost high-school-like desires, which are ultimately extremely superficial — it’s a life not lived. It’s the unexamined, eternally infantilized life. So instead, it is to say, what are the more inherent values not the socially constructed values? What can we take from a society that is actually nourishing and socially important and is vital to our lives as social animals? But what can we also really understand as absurd as that unibrow insanity?

So I took the term actually from reading David Cayley’s book, on Ivan Illich, which hopefully, I’m going to be able to interview David Kelly on my podcast in the next few weeks. And I’ve mentioned him before, he’s written beautifully and very powerfully on the pandemic. And he’s been a disciple of sorts of Yvonne Illich, whom Cayley described as his ‘radical humanism’. And that was really…

Illich was able to see how the education institution has created these ideas about education that are not actual learning. How the professionalization created these ideas about what it is to be a professional, but are not actually reflecting, of what it is inherently to become good at something, to become skilled, at something to be able to provide a service to be able to provide medical treatment. Illich wrote about, I believe in medical nemesis, he writes about the professionalization of medicine, and what that’s done, and how the dignity of dying has been robbed from us… All of these things – the assumptions that we must die in the hospital, the assumption that we must, at all costs, avoid death. That we must, at all costs save this abstract concept called life. He somehow is very critical of the demise of the art of dying. All of this makes him a very, very radical human. And I think that’s something that I’m very drawn to right now. I’m looking for all the people who can think in that radical kind of way. But you know, radical is also in the more colloquial sense, to be radical is to be someone who’s subversive. And I think, when our culture becomes what it is, when our culture becomes hyper, hyper, regimented, licensed, professionalized… to be anything, you need a stamp from an institution… to have any value, you need to have gone through some kind of credentialing system. Some kind of approval-awarding… Some kind of titling system. All of these things tell you, You are nothing unless you’ve been sanctioned by some of their holy categories. You do a 5k… you are not a runner unless you’ve run with a race and your race has been recorded as X number on the list for your age range… All of these are external institutions applying value to you. And to say, I’m not going to live my life defined entirely by these arbitrary, and economically exploitative systems of bureaucracy are itself a radical act. It is a subversive act. And it is… it takes courage. It takes… I’m not one who has that kind of courage on a regular but I’m looking for it. I’m on the hunt for it.

As, you know, we look into this future. We don’t know what’s going to come in the fall when there might be vaccine mandates. Which would usher in a kind of medical apartheid and would set us up for allowing for our biometrics to be a measure by which we are given or not given freedoms. And that’s very, very worrisome. So… amid all of that worry hanging over us, I find it’s extremely comforting and grounding to be and to learn and to focus on the radically human.

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2 Comments
  • Chava Laufer
    Posted at 07:24h, 15 July Reply

    Hello there,
    I listened to your interview with the teacher from LA and am horrified once again by the realization that so many of our children aren’t back to regular in person schooling. This is coming right after a conversation about college and how students simply cheat through the process now that it’s all virtual including tests.

    When you describe a community that stands autonomously against all these changes, I can’t help thinking of the Chassidish community. They’re isolated from the general culture and created this micro culture for themselves, and because they set themselves apart, they aren’t influenced by media, newspapers, magazines and film.

    No society is perfect, and chassidim have many flaws in their system, but when it comes to fighting the digital generation I have a lot of respect for them.

    I’m watching the creativity explode because they don’t have Netflix or a smart phone to go to. I’m also watching the creativity of young kids dimi ksh in the face of all available devices and boredom crushers.

    There’s another element, growing up as a young child being bored meant that I go knocking on some of the neighbors doors to see if anyone wants to play with me. Being bored today for a child in Williamsburg, Boro Park or Monroe is pretty much the same. But when I look at children in my neighborhood, being bored means reaching out for a device to numb their boredom and kill their socialization.

    Keep going. I love your podcasts. It makes my drives and Brooklyn traffic a bit more batampt.

    • Frieda Vizel
      Posted at 17:31h, 15 July Reply

      Chava, I am always so happy to hear from you. And I am pretty much thinking on the same page as you. I think it’s going to be fascinating to watch the Hasidic community in the coming years when we’ll probably all be using digital wallets for everything and our whole lives will be online. If they chart a completely different path, as they have till now, then they’ll be the most interesting cultural phenomenon in New York.

      Sadly, not many will appreciate it. People do seem to love the one trope about Hasidim and leaving. I’ve been asked about this new reality show, My Unorthodox Life, and I really couldn’t care less. How many times have we seen this plot before we get tired of going in circles? Meh. There’s so much more to that world.

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