Leighton Woodhouse: Sociology, Social Psych, Homelessness, Addiction,Culture,Decline of Civilization
Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Full episode transcript below. Beware of typos!
Read more stuff on Substack for some time now. And I really like your writing. Thank you. Yeah, I know you cover interesting topics, the writings, good. I mean, just irrespective of what you write about, I just love the way that you actually write very much. Also, I love how you to you, you talk about contemporary subjects, but you also sort of bring in and kind of revitalize a lot of old ideas that people probably haven't heard before. And I always I always appreciate that. And so where were you said you're calling in from Oakland? Yes,
Leighton Woodhouse 6:36
I live in Oakland.
Nick Jikomes 6:38
How long have you been there?
Leighton Woodhouse 6:40
Well, I grew up in the bay area. So this is home in terms of terms of my childhood. I grew up in Berkeley. And I've lived here in Oakland for probably the past five years. Before that I was in LA for quite some time a brief stint in New York City went to college on the East Coast. I think that about covers it.
Nick Jikomes 7:01
Okay, so you grew up in the Bay Area. You've been on the East Coast, you've also been in LA, you know, when it comes to the Bay Area and LA, and a lot of cities in America but but I think the West Coast cities in particular, I live in Seattle, I've spent a fair amount of time in Portland. I've been down to SF and La several times over the last few years. What what's going on? A lot of people are talking about these cities, you know, SF and LA, maybe, you know, sort of as the poster children of this phenomenon that's going on where we see just this explosion in homelessness and drug addiction and staff, as someone who's been there for a number of years. How have you observed that change actually take place? And what do you think is going on there?
Leighton Woodhouse 7:46
Well, first of all, I think you see it as well, because it's definitely in Seattle, this sort of civilizational breakdown, you know, having grown up in the Bay Area, and spent and I've lived in California almost my entire life. But I've spent enough time on the east coast to be able to draw contrast. And, you know, I've always felt like, of course, like New York City is now experiencing a little bit of a touch of, of what we have here. You know, a lot of a lot more violence, and just random crime and things like that. But my experience has been that the East Coast is somewhat of a more civilized place than the West Coast. And I mean that I know that just sounds like a pejorative against the the west coast but I mean something specific by that which is like, I think that maybe you know, New York City is what I'm most familiar with on the on the east coast. But there's something about living in such a dense area where being in public is such a big part of your day to day life. That I think it builds and you know, I we're gonna get into Durkheim. But this is very draconian about kind of builds the sense of social solidarity that we never had had on the West Coast, a lot of it because of our car culture. You know, single family home living, but but then also there's something political on the West Coast, you know, there's this, there's this libertarian strain to the culture on the West Coast. I mean, here in the Bay Area, it's kind of where it was created, because a lot of this stuff if you've read that book, the famous book, from cyber called counter, from counterculture to cyber culture, he writes about, about this, about this sort of, you know, the back to the land movement in the 60s, which, well, actually, he goes back further than that with the with, with the military infrastructure in California, combined with this sort of what happened in the 60s of the back to the land movement created this kind of like tech libertarian ethos, which then was fused with the West Coast inherent kind of liberal pneus. Who so now we have this, what was the name of that was his name. It's called from counterculture to Agriculture, Fred. I'm forgetting his name. Now he's a Stanford professor. And it's about Stuart Brand, who's the guy who created the whole earth catalog and his role in kind of creating his role and creating the cultural conditions that gave rise to the computer revolution. And then Silicon Valley. So interesting book. Anyway, so there's the sort of like the politics here are very left libertarian, which is a dangerous combination, in my opinion, because it's sort of like, there's both the kind of commitment to social justice, which is a good thing. But there's the sort of the there's a reflexive How do I describe this, there's like, it's sort of like the, the big nanny state kind of authoritarianism fused with this sort of like, anything goes libertarianism, which creates a situation in which like, for example, you know, we have this idea that homeless people who are pitching tents on sidewalks defecating in the streets, you know, who are enslaved to their addictions, it's not their fault. I mean, they may have made some mistakes that got them into this position in the first place. But what's your just full on psychotic and addicted, you are no longer obviously in control of yourself. And there's and then this at this attitude prevails among progressives in the Bay Area, which is like, well, that's their right to live as they choose, and we shouldn't intervene. And any kind of application of a coercion is somehow immoral, even though the alternative is allowing people to live in utter misery while destroying the social fabric of our cities. So I think that's very much the same in I think, a lot of that too.
Nick Jikomes 11:53
Yeah, there's, I mean, there's some interesting psychology there, I think, you know, as someone who's a big, big fan of choice among, you know, psychologically sovereign adults, you know, in almost any domain of life, you know, what is the what is the word choice mean, in the context of someone who is literally psychotic and literally addicted to like fentanyl, or methamphetamine or what have you?
Leighton Woodhouse 12:15
Right, right. There is no choice. I mean, it's, this is I've had this argument so many times that like, addiction is not a choice, it is a lack of choice. And if you do not intervene, I mean, it's sort of like reminds me of the, you know, the cliche, thought experiment with tracks with the split track with a train coming down in one person's on and tied up on the tracks on one side, one one track and 10 people on the other. But you actually have to hit the lever to be able to switch to the one that kills the one person. It's like, we are on, we are not touching the lever and headed towards the 10 people that the train is about to barrel over. And we're like, well, we're moral people. This is the ethical choice. It's like it's not the ethical choice. You're you're allowing people to die by refusing to intervene. And I, there's, you know, I'm not going to pretend that there isn't a lot of moral complexity around the decision to intervene and essentially use coercive, coercive means to help people. That is a morally complicated situation as well. But let's not pretend that refusing to do that is not also morally fraught.
Nick Jikomes 13:23
Yeah, I mean, and the sort of the general issue of, I guess, social decay, as you know, it manifests in in more homelessness, more drug addiction, more psychosis, more suffering among that population, it seems to be happening very steadily and linearly, in my view. So I've been on the west coast for six years now. And I moved to Seattle. And I live in a neighborhood, which, you know, when I moved here was described as having character that's up and coming, and that will be getting better. And that's not what happened and what's kind of, in my visit, I live in Pioneer Square, which, loosely speaking, you might be able to say that that's the analog of what's what's, what's the big one in SF where tender line, the tender line? Yeah, it's not that bad. But what I was about to say is, you know, when I visited, you know, been in Seattle, I visited Portland, LA and SF, multiple times over the past few years, multiple times each. And my personal experience is almost like Seattle. Portland today is like what Seattle is gonna look like in one or two years. Seattle or Portland is maybe one or two or three years behind SF and it's almost like you can see everything being pulled towards you know what the tenderloin SF has become. And it's spreading, it's getting worse, not better. And what's remarkable about that is you know, when you look at the stats and stuff I know that you've written about this, you know, SF as one example, you know, they spent something like a billion or more dollars a year on homelessness. So what the hell is going on? Like if that amount of resources being allocated, why isn't any improvement seem to be happening?
Leighton Woodhouse 15:00
Right. And you know, I've written about this as well, because I mean, there is a relationship and it's an inverse relationship, the more we spend, the worse the problem gets. And I think that that's something that we need to be paying attention to. And, you know, I have a theory as to why it's happening, and which is about the fact that you he's, you know, there's an industry that has that has evolved around the homelessness problem in San Francisco, and around the addiction crisis in San Francisco. And like any industry, you know, no matter how many good people you populate it with, no matter how well intentioned, these organizations are, organizations start to take on their own institutional interests, which are kind of discrete from the populations that they purport to serve. And on the most basic level, you know, they have an organizational interest in making sure that their funding is renewed. I want to be clear that like, I'm not, I don't want to be unrealistically cynical. It's not like the leaders of these organizations wake up in the morning and decide and try to plot how can I can maximize their budget for the following year, it's just an ever present imperative that they have their budgets renewed, because they have employees, they have a payroll to meet, they have rent to pay. And so and you know, if you ever worked in the nonprofit industry, you're aware of how much that dominates your day to day life. If you're working like a bootstrap nonprofit, you're constantly worried about get about your about, you know, your next year's budget.
Nick Jikomes 16:24
Yeah, not in terms of I mean, as you said, it's not like, you know, you're cynically trying to get the biggest budget possible unnecessarily, it's that you have employees, and they have families, and you have to make payroll. And I like to use the word evolved, these, these institutional structures have evolved organically based on incentives. They're not engineered by someone, you know, trying to make them this way.
Leighton Woodhouse 16:45
Right. Right, exactly. It's a it's a very natural phenomenon. It's, it's natural, as you know, I don't know yeast emerging from flour and water. And, and so you have these organizations, they have incentives. And I think that what ends up happening, and this would be an interesting thing to pay close attention to exactly how it happens, which I have not done. But like there's a process, there's an ideological formation that happens when you have these these immediate concrete incentives. But then you also have, you know, political and moral convictions. And there's a tension between those two, for example, you know, you might start off thinking, well, we want to house all the homeless and get rid of the homeless homelessness problem. Which one would assume most people who go into these organizations have that, that value or that mission? Yeah, yeah. But there's a tension between that mission and the longevity of your organization, since if you've solved the homeless problem, you're, you're you you have no more business model, is a crass way of putting it. And so I think, eventually, over time, you know, isn't as this is a very kind of, I think, subtle and gradual process, you and I think it's kind of comparable, the way that that it happens is like natural selection, it's like, you know, just out of the confluence of ideas, sort of these certain ideas which have an elective affinity with the material interest start to start to emerge and sort of be naturally selected away from the others. And eventually, you come up with an etiology, which is very conveniently serves your organization's interests, which is, in the case of San Francisco, people should be allowed to camp on the streets, people shouldn't be allowed to do as many drugs as they want to. Sure, if you want to get clean, then you should have that option. But we there should be no pressure to push you towards recovery, we should just hand out foil, handout, pipes, handout needles, create zones for you to be able to use your drugs, and then and then and then we can we can serve that we can staff that or like you can give, you know, a chunk of the city budget goes to us to staff and provide those services. And so you know, it's a convenient, sort of It's a convenient fusion between your your ideology, your quote unquote, radical ideology and your frankly, neoliberal material goals. Yeah,
Nick Jikomes 19:06
I mean, it would seem to be that the the evolutionary dynamic here is that you get this nice complementarity between the material interests of the institution wanting to perpetuate itself, and sort of the ideology forming around that such that such that those interests are served while at the same time the people, the people, engaging in the behavior within the institution, believe they're doing the right thing, and are sort of blinded to the fact that they're not actually doing what they think they're doing, which is decreasing the amount of suffering among these populations.
Leighton Woodhouse 19:45
Exactly. And we should like be clear that like these organizations, so they, you know, these organizations, these nonprofits are, I've written about this before as well. You know, they are it's a neoliberal business model. And I mean, that in the sense that like, at one one point in time, it was the government's responsibility to, to take on these tasks. But now in city after city, we've got just over the like, and then over the last 30 or 40 years, we've gotten used to these ideas of like these public private partnerships, and, and, and sort of outsourcing these municipal responsibly responsibilities to nonprofit to private nonprofits, which have, which have no transparency requirements, etc. And so, you know, we've, we've, it's been adopted in many very progressive cities where it's like, we're instead of having city workers do this stuff, we're gonna have this constellation of shoestring nonprofits do it. And that is privatization. It's just that it's not seen as privatization these progressive areas, because you're talking about a nonprofit as 501 C three, you know, and these are like do gooders who sign up for it. And these are political radicals, also, who tend to staff that they're like, you know, they're like anarchists, and they have pink hair or whatever. So like, clearly, this isn't privatization. But come on, it's privatization. And so like the business model is in neoliberal one, which is essentially like shifting responsibility from the public sector of the private sector, to administer the to take care to manage these populations. But the political ideology is like, aesthetically radical.
Nick Jikomes 21:15
Yeah, I see. And so does it simply not occur to people to sit down and say things like, Alright, we've been doing things this way for X number of years. Let's just look at the data. How many of the homeless people that are being served in this way, are choosing to get off drugs and seek that kind of treatment? And how many aren't? Because the answer would seem to be basically 0% of them? Yeah. No one noticing this, or is it being ignored? Or?
Leighton Woodhouse 21:45
I think the ideology takes care of that. I mean, like, you know, you have, like, first of all, you know, I think the when, when the sort of the leaders of this nonprofit industry take a walk through the tender line, or, or through Pioneer Square, or do you guys have an area called the blade? Is that like, some Skid Row? And in Seattle? Not? Not that I've heard, okay, okay. Maybe there was some time go. But, but, you know, the youth I think they walk through these areas, and they, they say to themselves, Oh, the shame and, and, and horrors of capitalism, you know, they're like, this is this is, this is the human wreckage of, of, you know, our white supremacist, fascist state and our evil capitalist system. You know, I think that's as far as the ideology goes, and then it's like, well, and then there's this kind of, there's this white savior complex. I mean, I'm not all these people are white. And I'm not, there's no point in bringing race into this. But, you know, as a shorthand, there is sort of this, like the equivalent of maybe it's a class based, savior complex, but there's this sort of like, oh, I, you know, we'll be a steward to these people, and, and take care of these casualties of capitalism, and respect them and give them dignity. And what respecting and giving them dignity means is to allow them to continue to live in absolute misery, because that's supposed to be their autonomous choice. Like, you know, a lot of these people who I've argued with, I believe, think that the choice to that living on the street in a sidewalk, doing meth all day is a sovereign choice is like is like a decision that people have made rather than a hole you've fallen in and cannot get out of. So like their dignity is somehow respecting their dignity to not change this situation for them. So I think the ideology is very malleable and has no problem accommodating those concerns.
Nick Jikomes 23:38
Yeah. So what about like, so So when we think about the drug addiction component of this in particular, but there are many different views that many different people have on here? You know, the, you know, everyone's got a different view on sort of the spectrum of legal versus illegal versus decriminalized, how we should be criminalizing certain types of drug use or not. And what that should look like in any society, you've got the SF model, we'll just call it the way that things are being handled in SF today. You've got some let's compare and contrast that with a way that another society does it. I think, an interesting one, there is Portugal, right, where they have done a lot of decriminalization, and my understanding is that many people have a confused view on how that model is actually implemented and governed and Portus. Can you talk about that a little bit and kind of contrast it to what we're doing here on the West Coast?
Leighton Woodhouse 24:30
Yeah. And I've never been to Portugal, but Michael Shellenberger has written quite a bit about about it. And Michael and I are kind of friends and collaborators. And my understanding from Michael and from other people I've spoken to who have been to Portugal is that none of the stuff that you see in San Francisco is happening in Lisbon, you know, people are not smoking meth on the street or pitching sidewalks on the street. And if you do, there's law enforcement, they enforce laws there. And but in for an arrest does not mean incarceration. This is something that people need to like understand about the criminal justice system is that arresting somebody is just stopping them from doing what they're doing and detaining them for a period of time. And then you have various pathways you can go down only one of which is incarceration. But you know, they have the infrastructure to force people and the laws to force people into recovery. And that's what I think that we should be doing here. So it's not they haven't done this, like, free for all a boss, the police type attitude where they're just like, we'll just let it happen. And then we'll just, you know, make sure that people don't overdose and we'll administer Narcan if they do. That's not what's happening in Portugal.
Nick Jikomes 25:45
Yeah, my understanding of Portugal is they have decriminalized drugs. So you know, you it's okay to have them, but you can't sell them. You can't use them openly in public, and those things are policed, like they will be, you will be penalized. You won't be you know, you won't be sent to prison for life, but you will be fined or something if you engage in those activities. Right. Right. They have a decriminalization framework. So it's not that decriminalization in Portugal does not mean, you can just walk around smoking meth and shooting heroin, wherever you want, whenever you want, however you want.
Leighton Woodhouse 26:16
No, it's quite the opposite. It's a it's a more civilized society than what we have here in California. And you're the people who most defend the right of people to smoke meth on the sidewalk. You know, they think of themselves as as compassionate because they're in their minds there they are sort of defending the dignity and autonomy of the least among us. But like the tenderloin is a working class neighborhood, it's, it has been for, you know, 100 years has been a working class neighborhood, it used to be where the the maritime workers went. And a lot of the SROs are leftover from the these, like, cheap hotels that maritime workers would rent out when they were on leave on shore. And then it became sort of, you know, it's always been this this very working class neighborhood, but like, really the lower class neighborhood like the most marginal of the working class. And, and today, it continues to be like, there are like, it's not Skid Row in LA, there are Skid Row is mostly, you know, commercial warehouse based like area, you know, there's there are retail stores, but it's a lot of like, there's the Flower District in the fashion district where it's a lot of big, wholesale places. So there's not like, there's not a lot of population density in terms of like, certainly in terms of residents, like I don't think many people I don't know the number but outside of homeless people there aren't. It's not like there's big condos. And you know, in Skid Row, the tenderloin is a densely populated area with tons and tons of immigrant families. A lot of Yemeni families is the is the is the most recent sort of influx. So there's a lot of people who fled the war in Yemen. And the only place that they could afford is the tenderloin. You know, Yemeni families tend to come from fairly culturally conservative Muslim family. So you can imagine the culture shock when they have to walk their kids onto the streets and seeing what they're seeing. You they have these, they used to, they used to have a thing called the Yellow Brick Road, which I think they're bringing back which is they had like, in the Tenderloin they had from certain, like residential, I believe apartment buildings to schools, they would have pathways that were marked in, in in yellow. And that was a yellow brick road for kids to be able to get to school. And during the hours of kids go to and from school, the police would ask the drug dealers and the drug users to vacate that area for like an hour. And the drug dealers abided by it because it's you know, why not like it's not a big deal for them. And it's better than having to to complicate things with the police. But it's like they set up these yellow brick roads so that kids would be wouldn't have to be exposed to like walking through an open air drug market. They don't have that anymore. But what they do have is a bunch of volunteer parents who come out and basically create, like, human corridor to walk kids to school. So it's like, where's your compassion for, for these poor immigrant families who have to live in this shit? You know, they can't go to the playground because the playground is filled with like, tents and users. And there's drug users. I mean, drug dealers right across the street openly dealing math. It's like, you know, there's more kids in the Tenderloin per capita than any other neighborhood in San Francisco. It's like this is those are the people who are suffering from it. Not me. I live in Oakland across the bay, I don't have to see that outside my front door every day.
Nick Jikomes 29:40
And to you know, when you when you think about the people who live in these neighborhoods, people you're just talking about other people. And they're living amongst amongst this and adjacent to it. They see it day after day. Not only are they seeing the drug use and the homelessness but they're seeing various crimes including sometimes even violent of crimes not being dealt with and not being punished and not being deterred? What is that kind of experience, day after day for months or years start to do to what image is called the general social fabric of the neighborhood, the sense of culture and community. And what is that? How did that start to tie in to what Durkheim and others would say is the purpose of loss.
Leighton Woodhouse 30:23
Yeah, well, so for First of all, I think that there was a story of, I believe it was a Yemeni family. It was it was a Muslim family, immigrant family from from the Middle East. And there was a 10 year old girl who was assaulted in the middle of a intersection by a woman who was, you know, who was like psychotically, she was she had a drug induced psychosis, and she attacked, it was a hate crime, because I think she said something about her hijab 10 year old girl, hit her in the head. And, and, and that girl, this is the record with the Chronicle reported on it, that she saw her assailant like a few months later, just on the street. So this girl is already been traumatized by this crazy woman who just hit her in the head, and then she's just walking out because she's seen her she was freed again, you know, after assaulting a child. So like, you know, you can imagine just on a personal level with with fear and trauma would be for that child. This child who, who, if I'm right, that she was Yemeni than she was, you know, our family have escaped a war to get into this context. By the way, there's another related story and I will come back to your your question, but there was another family, a Yemeni family in the East Bay in Oakland, who, who fled the war, they and set up a liquor store in Oakland, and there was a complicated, I won't get into the details, but somebody got shot in their liquor store. And then then then the assailants or the In retaliation, that the people retaliated thought that the owners of the store were mixed up with the person who shot them. So they burned down the house of the owner of the store. And the the one the father was the father in the family and his two year old daughter were burned alive in the fire. They escaped, they escaped Yemen, to come to America to escape violence, and this is what happened to them. So anyway, to get back to your question, you know, visa vie Durkheim, I'm a big I'm a I believe that retribution is serves an important purpose in criminal justice. It's not the only purpose. But a lot of people on the left, outright dismiss retribution as serving any purpose whatsoever, right. They're like, maybe you can make a case for incapacitation. Maybe you can make a case for deterrence. Definitely, we should be doing rehabilitation, but we're not doing that kind of justice.
Nick Jikomes 32:44
Before you go further. Can you just sort of unpack those at a very basic level, you have deterrence, incapacitation, you've got retribution as possible reasons to legally punish someone? What are each of those things? And what's sort of the common sense, thinking that most people might have about each one?
Leighton Woodhouse 33:00
Right? So we have rehabilitation, which we clearly don't do, and, you know, that's affects you so you don't become so when you get out, you can become an upstanding citizen instead of a career criminal. Incapacitation is just basically, like, keep you off the streets, right? Like, if you're, if you're a repeat offender, and you're just going out every weekend dealing drugs or, you know, murdering people, you should be held in a place behind lock and key where you have no access to the streets, because then fewer people get hurt. By the way, you know, this, that's mass incarceration, and a lot of people have a knee jerk reflex against it, as do I, I don't believe that mass incarceration is a good thing. But we should acknowledge that that one factor in the dip in the crime rate, you know, that that happened between the over the last like 20 years and still it started spiking up again, was a result of the war on drugs, which everybody for good reason, you know, frowns upon, but we incapacitated a lot of criminals. And when they served their terms, and were released back on the streets, they they were repeat offenders, and we saw the crime rate girl go up. Again, that's not the only factor. But it is a factor is that one of the reasons why the crime rate plummeted is because we had so many people who would have otherwise been committing crimes in in prison. So again, that doesn't justify the war on drugs or mass incarceration. It's just a reality that we have to live with and kind of accommodate but anyway so that's that's incapacitation, deterrence is you know, if I if I if I do this, then I'm gonna get in trouble so I'm not going to do it right. If if there's a deterrence doesn't work in America, either because the clearance rate of these police departments is so low, that chant you know, you're gonna get away with a crime like the chances are, in order for deterrence to work, you have to be reasonably confident that you're going to get caught. And and so, but that's deterrence and then retribution is revenge. It's social revenge, right? We'd say You It's a pound of flesh, it's like you commit a cry for now you commit a crime and you should be punished for it. And that seems, you know, mean, evil even to a lot of people. But this is what Durkheim wrote about. In order to have norms, you have to have punishment, because of because if and if you have a social norm, we all agree to this code, we're not going to murder anybody, right? That's wrong to do. And we're all going to agree not to murder anybody. When somebody goes out and murder, murder somebody, they have committed a crime, not just against the victim. This is why we have a civil court system and a criminal court system. When you do a civil offense, you're just doing an offense against a private party. But when it's a criminal offense, you are you are committing a crime against your immediate victim, but also you have transgressed against the entire society, you know, we have the state of California versus x, or the America versus x instead of private party versus private party. I
Nick Jikomes 35:55
see. Yeah. So this is I guess, this is why, you know, if you and I enter into a contract with each other a business agreement or something, it sort of be me versus you, if one of us if I claim that you violated the terms or something. But if I come to your house and maim you, it's not you versus me, you can't even write you can't even you could forgive me, let's say, I come and maim you. But actually, that doesn't mean that I wouldn't be prosecuted, you know, the legal ball would still roll down because I have you know, from a legal societal perspective, I've sort of I've, I have made a transgression against the wider society in addition to you as an individual.
Leighton Woodhouse 36:32
Exactly. I'm not the only one you need to make amends to so if I forgave you for maiming me, I could go to the prosecutor and express my my forgiveness and plead for them not to prosecute me to give you a lighter charge, and the prosecutor would probably take that into consideration, but it's their it's their prerogative, not mine to decide what to do with you. And, you know, there's a social function to that process, which is that people in order for the norm to be upheld, people need to know that if you break from that norm, then you then the society has essentially repaired the strength of the norm. By having it by having its retribution bear out. This is sort of like, like, it's the same Erving Goffman wrote about the the apology, the act of apologizing to somebody, and how weird it is, what do you think about it? Because if I like punch you in the face, and then I go, Oh, my God, I'm so sorry. And I'd say something to the extent of like, I don't know what came over me. That wasn't me. That was this other person. You know what, but of course, it was me. And we all know it was me who did it. But what I'm saying is, in that moment that I transgressed against you, I was acting as somebody who doesn't have respect for this norm not to punch you in the face.
Nick Jikomes 37:46
And I'm realizing that
Leighton Woodhouse 37:49
I, you're paying tribute to the norm by saying, I'm sorry, I am somebody who acknowledges that norm, will you please allow me back into the moral community by accepting my apology? And so and by doing that, you you pay? It's like, what's the phrase for hypocrisy is the tribute that some people pay to forget the phrase, but anyway, it's like you apologized, and you're essentially paying tribute to the norm by acknowledging that you transgressed against it. And by doing so you acknowledged the fold the continued validity to the norm, which you have, whose ability you have undermined by carrying out the transgression. That's what retribution serves in the criminal justice system. It upholds the norm. You know, we all understand this, because we're all you know, even cleaning, lefties who would like to take retribution of the criminal justice system. We're all pissed off that no bankers went to jail after causing the financial crisis. Right. So it's like, it's not enough that that Merrill Lynch, like, you know,
Nick Jikomes 38:50
it's not, it's not merely that some individual didn't go, it's that no broader signal was sent out to the wider community. If you engage in this behavior, you will be punished.
Leighton Woodhouse 39:00
Exactly. And it's like, it's like so so it's like we even though okay, we save the economy from complete, you know, great depression collapse. You could even say that there was some kind of restorative justice done with a banks with the passage of Dodd Frank or whatever, and, or whatever the legislation was that put in the new rules. We've done the reparative work, one could make the case that we've done the reparative work, to to solve the problem. But the fact that no bankers went to jail, indicates that we've done no work around the moral transgressions of Wall Street at that time. The lefties, I argue with I think, would have no problem understanding that injustice and yet there's this like, dislike refusal to acknowledge that if you deal drugs on the street, if you're dealing fentanyl on the street for a year, and it's not enough that you just be I mean, the most important thing is that you'd be dead is that that activity has stopped so that people's lives lives are saved. But also on top of that, you should be serving a punishment for that crime so that we uphold the norm that that's not okay to do.
Nick Jikomes 40:09
Yeah, I mean, this this sort of gets to, you know, one of the things that was interesting that the Durkheim wrote about was, you know, why things become crimes? And I think what he was saying is that, you know, the things that are crimes, it's not like we have a bunch of experts who sit down and sort of formulate all of these things scientifically or something, we're actually we actually make things illegal, because because they violate the things that are just already the intuitions of most people in a community. So So literally, what he said was, we do not condemn acts because they are crimes, there are crimes because we condemn them, right. But then when you see people not condemning things that intuitively most people think are condemned bubble, that has this sort of acidic dissolving effect on, you know, the sense of community, that that everyone feels wherever they live.
Leighton Woodhouse 41:00
Yeah, this is one thing I love about Durkheim, is that, you know, when I started reading Durkheim, I, like many other people who come from a political tradition of the left, you know, saw things and still do, I'm still very quite obsessed with, with class analysis. But it was a kind of a welcome respite to see it from another point of view, because Durkheim is very much not a, you know, he doesn't look at the world through a class lens. And that's very helpful in in achieving certain insights, which you would not get from a class analysis where you'd be like, well, the rules must be written that way, because the ruling class favors it, when in fact, you're like, No, you look at the, the genealogy these rules, and that's not how they emerged at all. They emerge organically as a way to achieve social solidarity to keep to keep social, you know, to keep communities coherence. And what we're seeing with this lawlessness in the Bay Area and the entire west coast, really, I fear the consequences of it, because not only because of the material cost of of crime, but also because of the undermining of any sense of like, I'll give you a specific example. Retailers now in In mid the mid market area in San Francisco, right across the street from the center line, are now putting in place new rules, because people are just shamelessly shoplifting. And, and you can't stop, right? People are coming all day, every day and just boosting product. And so you know, these practical measures are being put in place like, Okay, now for these products, you have to go to the register and ask for them, you can't just pull them off the shelves. And also, if you want to use the bathroom, you have to have an app that opens up the bathroom, because we have too many people coming in here and doing doing needles and dropping the needles down the toilet, clogging up the plumbing system. So it's like, do you there's this sort of like, these measures start to like, in five years, we're gonna be live in a world where like, I feel like to go to target, you'll need to have an app that like has facial recognition or something, you know, that like allows you into the store. And it's like, of course, that's going to happen because they need to put it because if there's no law and order, then they need to create private access rules, and is that the society we want to live in this bunker society where we're all just separated from each other, that that should be a dystopia for people on the left. That's the natural sort of conclusion for for just not enforcing laws.
Nick Jikomes 43:25
One of the things that I want to circle back to is, you know, when we were talking about this sort of nonprofit industrial complex, and how it evolves organically, and you get this sort of complementarity between the, the specific policies and actions that people in those institutions are advocating for, which serve the, the interests of the institution to perpetuate itself. There's this complementarity between that and the ideologies that evolved to for people to rationalize what they're doing and why. And, you know, it seems like people often adhere to these ideologies with what I think could only be described as like a religious fervor. And you know, Durkheim, and others wrote wrote also a lot about, you know, the purpose and function of religion in society. It's a topic I'm very interested in. So do you have any thoughts on like, what the relationship between the decline of what we can just call traditional organized religions in America has been in relationship to the emergence and ascension of some of these new political and social ideologies? Are these new sort of institutional structures that you know are ostensibly trying to remedy problems that they are in fact perpetuating?
Leighton Woodhouse 44:33
Yeah, so Durkheim wrote like, pardon this like mini lecture, but, but for assume most listeners have not read Durkheim. But in in the elementary forms of religious life, Durkheim looked at the field notes of a bunch of anthropologists who were looking primarily at aboriginal tribes in Australia, and that he sort of in these these are these were quote unquote primitive of societies, I'm just going to use that term. You know, some people find it offensive, but by primitive, and he used that term, but really, I think he even used the term savage. But really what he meant was Elementary, pre division of labor. And so these were, these were society, communities in which people lived isolated lives. Like if you're a subsistence farmer, you live in a community where you have neighbors who you don't see every day because they live too far away. And but you also don't see them every day because you don't need to see them every day, because you're a subsistence farmer, everything that you have is at home right with with your family, you do not you literally have no material need to see other people ever. So his question was, how do you cohere a community together of people who live materially isolated lives? Or how do they cohere their communities together? So he looked at these tribes where that was essentially the material conditions of their existence. And he found that periodically, they would come together and have these religious ceremonies, in which that was invoked, that were really intense, they involve like, a lot of dancing and drumming and spiritual elevation, chanting, and like, shamanism basically, is Yeah, going out with water and food, without water for days on it, in, you know, intense heat, and, and so, and what, and they would achieve this sort of transcendental experience with these rituals. And what his dark ops theory was, was, so he called this collective effervescence, it's like the feeling when you train, you're in the midst of like, you know, we've experienced a, on a sort of lower level, like basketball game, you know, and like, or like a political March, where you're like chanting, and you just feel like you're one of the crowd and you're kind of uplifted, and it creates the sense of cohesion of the of everybody there. So basically, you transcend your life as an individual. And you enter into the sublime state when you are when you belong to the life of the collective. Yeah.
Nick Jikomes 46:59
And that, you know, immediately I think of a couple things here, like, you know, when you see, there are many kinds of examples of this. But you know, like when when some sports team wins a championship, and then everyone's out riding in the streets, you're like, Why the hell are they riding effectively, but it's because they go into the psychological state where they don't feel like an atomized individual, they feel like part of a coherent community. And it is a very good feeling people like having that feeling. And, you know, I didn't actually expect the conversation to go here. But the last episode with a man named Michael Winckelmann, and anthropologist was all about shamanism. In ancient hunter gatherer groups, and you know, what it was and what it did, the thing that I did not realize is how frequently these sorts of shamanic group ritual practices involving, you know, drumming and reaching these ecstatic states actually were, it wasn't once per year, it wasn't once per lunar cycle, it was every, you know, two to four weeks in most cultures, because presumably, that that frequency is required to maintain kind of group coherence necessary to just have a stable society.
Leighton Woodhouse 48:02
Durkheim actually writes about that, he says explicitly that, you know, when these people go back to their own private existences as individuals, the collective effervescence that they experience has sort of like a, you know, there's, there's a residue of it that remains, but then it starts to deplete. And so like after, when, when it gets to the point where it's pretty much depleted, then there's a need for another cycle to bring the tribe together again, and intercoms view, you know, this is all in these, these pre division of labor societies, he called this mechanical solidarity, because there's like a mechanical thing where you just like, come together, have it and part and then come together and apart. It's very mechanical, as opposed to organic, organic solidarity is the pre is the solidarity that comes from a post, like from a more complex society, when I wake up in the morning and have a cup of coffee, right? It's like, I'm waking up in a house that was built by somebody else in a bed that was built by somebody else, with sheets that were manufactured by somebody else, I go and get takeout coffee beans that were grown by somebody else, and distributed by somebody else. It's like a million people have have participated in the process of getting me from the bed to my hot cup of coffee every morning, right? Because we're all integrated. And that way, we are the farthest thing from self sufficient. And so Durkheim believed and I think was too confident in this opinion, that, that that organic solidarity, there's material bonds of between us start to sort of crowd out the need for this mechanical solidarity. And so that's why you have religion starts to play more and more of a background role in modern societies. But the thing that we found is that you still need that, that it's not enough you still need the mechanical solidarity. Yeah, that's why
Nick Jikomes 49:49
collective effervescence must be felt otherwise, things are just going to disintegrate into chaos. Right and something will evolve.
Leighton Woodhouse 49:55
Right. And so we had, you know, we had for a long time, you know, In the United States bucked the trend of Western Europe and continue to be a very religious society, even though you know, even in the United States, it was it tailed off over generations. But you know, we, as the most advanced capitalist society, we still had a lot of religion and now religion has, we have been falling into the pattern of Western Europe with people being less and less attentive to church. And so now we found, you know, other ways, and I don't know, which came first the chicken or the egg in this case, but we found other ways to achieve that, that this sort of in group feeling, and a lot of that is, you know, just like collective effervescence can be a very beautiful thing. And it can also be a very dangerous thing. And in the same way, the sort of in group out group stuff that we're now finding, I think online, is it's like, there's this digital version of collective effervescence, which is like, you know, the group pylons on on Twitter, the, the sort of the mob actions that create the sense of like, clearly the purpose is to, you know, we don't quite achieve a transcendental state, but there is this feeling of belonging, this like, kind of very, very, like, lizard brain feeling of belonging that comes from interactions.
Nick Jikomes 51:08
Yeah, I mean, I think we all know intuitively that everyone wants to belong. When you start to think about it more deeply, right, we start to think about things like, We're social primates, we exist in social status hierarchies. People want to maintain their status or increase it, no one ever wants to decrease it. And that ties into some of the things that we're talking about, I think. And if I try and stitch a couple of things together here, when we're talking about the sort of nonprofit industrial complex, and the sense of belonging, it presumably gives the people that, go into that line of work and subscribe to some of those ideologies. You know, where do Where do, those people come from, in the sense of, I think this probably ties into the fact that right College became so important for people to go to, and more and more people had to go to college. And we produced so many of those people. And I think a lot of people would even say that we overproduced to them, meaning more people started getting college degrees, they thought were a ticket to, you know, some higher level of social status, whatever exactly that meant for any individual. But there just weren't enough slots for a lot of people in other domains of life. And so that sort of overproduction of people that feel like they have this ticket to higher level social status, creates a kind of anxiety that then funnels them elsewhere. Where does your mind go? And we start thinking about things like that.
Leighton Woodhouse 52:27
Yeah, the overproduction of elites is a has always been a very dangerous thing, you know, so there, I'm not an expert on this. But you know, I have read accounts of the Crusades having been caused by the overproduction of elites, because as populations got denser in Europe, they had these primogeniture laws where you had your hand all your your land down to the first sun. And what that means is that the land plots started getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and then the second son and the third son were left with nothing. And so you had all these elite aristocrat, Warrior, aristocrat, nobles with nothing to do. And it became a crisis in Europe. And then they were like, Okay, we got to do something with these people, send them to Jerusalem, you know, to reclaim the holy land. And then they went out and created this abomination of the Crusades. So it's like, this has always been a dangerous force in every society. And I think we and I do believe that we have that now. Because we are producing more and more would be white collar workers. But the color of the economy has become more and more bifurcated. You know, there are only so many tech jobs to go around. And so we have, you know, I think the experience of the millennial generation was one in which you had a bunch of kids who played by all the rules, you know, went to good colleges, and I'm talking I'm not talking about the majority of millennials, the majority of millennials, like every other generation, don't have college degrees. But among the the elite tier of the millennials, you had all these, these kids going to college, and they, you know, naturally expected to have a upper middle class lifestyle after graduating from prestigious university, and you know, then they graduated in the time of the Great Recession. And there were no jobs for them, you know, the sort of the girls the HBL girls kind of story. And so, so first of all, I wrote I wrote about this once before, because Pierre Bourdieu wrote about this very similar moment when this happened in Paris in the 19th century, that created the Bohemians. I won't go into that too much. But there's a parallel thing that happened now where there's this sort of like, because colleges have become so hyper politicized. These kids graduated from a school with a sort of training with this sort of this. This they had inculcated all these values of the political activist, and then they came out into a world in which their material expectations were not met. Mmm. And so they started going into the industries that they could and competing with each other over these jobs in like tech and in media. But they brought with them the sort of the habits use of the, of the professional of the, like the political activist. And so that became this contest within these industries. That over, like, who's more politically pure, and you had this, you know, you had like the New York Times the pivot that The New York Times had towards wokeness was driven, there was a really interesting New York Magazine article about how it was driven by the tech workers like the people who are designing the New York Times app, not the reporters. And it's because they all come from the New York Times had its its in its sort of mission to surpass all the which is achieved of surpassing all the other media outlets in terms of its digital presence, recruited all these people from Facebook, and Twitter, and all the silicon Silicon Valley firms have recruited, recruited all these cutters, but they couldn't compete salary wise with those companies. So they basically said, Look, we'll you're wasting your life, like, you know that you're not doing any good for the world by working for Facebook, if you come with us, like we'll pay you a decent salary, but you'll get the psychic benefit benefit of being able to make a difference in the world. And they bought that hook, line and sinker. And then they came to the New York Times and they realized that journalism isn't like that, that there were like, you could you actually had to report stories as they happened and not the width the way you wish they'd happen that people with opinions that you don't agree with get space on the Op Ed H on the page, page two, and they threw a fit and a temper tantrum. And this was kind of the the what generated the anger around that Tom Cotton op ed that ousted James Bennett is the opinion editor. A lot of that came from like the tech the tech folks at the New York Times. So it's clearly something that's beyond just the media. It's a it's a it's a generational transformation that's occurred.
Nick Jikomes 56:54
Yeah. And, you know, one thing I want to unpack a little bit more is this concept of elites and what makes someone elite and there's a lot of confusion there. Naturally, because you know, this is a relative term. It's it's also a term that people use in different ways. You know, when some people say, refer to the elites are talking about one group of people, and someone else refers to the elites are talking about other people. And I'm just wondering what your take is on what makes someone an elite, and I think maybe a good hook, there is this distinction I think you made in at least one of your articles between, like financial, cultural, and moral capital. There's these different forms of like social capital, we can have, traditionally, we think of capital as being the financial version. And that's maybe the most intuitive to think about. But it's not the only version of social capital that someone can wield. And so can you contrast those things and maybe use that as a way to think about what what actually makes someone elite or powerful in a society?
Leighton Woodhouse 57:47
Yeah, so this is all Pierre Bourdieu? Not my original thinking. So I'm just kind of regurgitating his his theory. But, you know, he looked at it as there's there's economic capital, which was sort of the like the if you come from Marxist tradition, you tend to see that as the sole distinguishing feature between between classes, is your control of economic capital, you know, boards yo saw perceive, because he came from anthropological background and came into sociology with an anthropological background, he kind of perceived that these market economies are working other things, too. He started in I don't want to go too far and on a tangent, but he's he gained this insight, because he was he went and did some research in Algeria and French Algeria. And in Algeria at the time, you know, the French were trying to impose upon Algerians their market based way of thinking about the world, and it wasn't taking. And so all these academics were like, Oh, these Algerians are acting in an economically irrational way. Their cultural is their culture is just backwards, because they can't accept Western economic rationality. And then he took a closer look. And he's like, No, all of this stuff is very rational. It's like there's this gift giving kind of practice, which Marcel moss and other people have also looked into where it's like, you know, but we understand this too, if you give somebody a gift, and then they go, thank you, and then the ego will give a gift right back to you. It's offensive, right? Because then it makes it look like an economic transaction, you have to wait a period of time. But then if you don't give anything back, then you feel slighted. Right? Right, right. There's this imperative that you need to wait a period of time to return the gift so that it doesn't look like a transaction, but you are, but it is, in fact, a transaction. And so So like, if you didn't understand that dynamic, then you'd look at somebody there like somebody, you'd look at these exchanges, and you would consider them economically irrational because the direct exchange was made. But in fact, a direct exchange couldn't have been made because it would violate this cultural norm. You needed to have this person would need to wait a period of time before returning the favor. So it's sort of like there's all these other things at work that are not just like what we understand is like a money transaction.
Nick Jikomes 59:58
Yeah, no, that's interesting. I actually just got back from Burning Man myself, which is by design a gift giving culture. And just to riff on what you just said, You're meant to gift things to people with no expectation of anything in return. And so you shouldn't give someone a gift right after they give you one. But you also should be you're looked at as you should be the, if you're here, you should be the kind of person that is going to be giving gifts to people unconditionally. So if you're not, if you're receiving gifts, and you're never giving them out to other people, that that transgression transgresses that norm, and there's this sort of deep belief and people who participate in that, in that event, for lack of a better term, that you ought to be the kind of person that gives gifts in that kind of way.
Leighton Woodhouse 1:00:42
I feel like there should be like a sociological study or anthropological study where you just send a bunch of people undercover into burning man who just violate the norm, you know, who just like, take and don't give back and just see what happens with the social structure of Burning Man.
Nick Jikomes 1:00:55
Yeah, that's, that's interesting hypothetical, I'm definitely not going to have get anyone actually do that. In the Bible.
Leighton Woodhouse 1:01:03
So anyway, so So Bourdieu looked at at the, you know, these other forms of capital, most famously, cultural capital. And cultural capital is essentially the the, the accumulated knowledge that one gains, that allows them to function sort of fluid fluidly and fluently within a given social circle. So, you know, if you have, you know, if you're going to be an upper middle class, college educated in America, then it helps to have some sort of basic understanding of, I don't know, fine arts, you know, or, like, I should say, if you do have, like, a, an extensive knowledge of, I don't know, that like, like, I'm trying to think of something that's more relevant than then it would have been, like, 20 years ago, but like, I don't know, like, indie rock, or something like that, that's gonna get you somewhere right in, in, in a in a social circle of people who all graduated from four year universities and are living in a city. Whereas if you go into a blue collar background, it's gonna get you absolutely nowhere, right? That's not the social, that's not the cultural capital that works within that, that this other social circle, they have their own forms of socials of cultural capital, which also don't translate into your elite circles. But bargiel saw the university as essentially a transmission vehicle of cultural capital, to children of privilege, basically, I mean, there's various tiers of university, so they're working class universities, where you have different types of social, cultural capital transmitted, but at the elite tier, you have people who are trained, yes, you get, maybe you get some, like, lateral job skills that help you on the job market, but most of what you're learning in a four year university, you're never going to use on the job, you're going to use it to, in your, in your social context, right. And perhaps
Nick Jikomes 1:02:59
this ties into why, you know, from from that perspective, from like this sort of cultural informational perspective, the prestigious universities in America, which I went through, they're very homogenous in that way. So like, like, for example, like, if you go to Harvard, I spent five years at Harvard, someone else could spend five years at Stanford, they're not going to be like completely distinct cultural experiences. No, they're actually going to be almost identical, even though like in theory, right? These are completely independent organizations. And yet, like no matter what top tier university, you go to, you get the same kind of general cultural vibes. And each one,
Leighton Woodhouse 1:03:38
right, right, right, you get a basic sort of you are, they're finishing schools, right? You're taught a certain etiquette, like finishing schools are easy to make fun of because you're like, literally learning like what utensil to use, and that's like just so transparently about class, you know, signaling. But a university education is essentially inculcates in you. Not only knowledge, like the actual body of knowledge that you absorb is probably the least important thing. It's much more a set of mannerisms, speech, the way that you carry yourself. The, like, an ironic sense of humor, like all these kinds of like, keys. Yeah,
Nick Jikomes 1:04:22
it reminds me of, right, so there's this contrast between I think what you're saying is like, right, there's the things I learned when I was at university like what I literally that declarative knowledge I literally learned in chemistry class, right? That's, you know, arguably secondary to you know, the, we'll just call the cultural beliefs that you pick up and this reminds me of Rob Henderson's phrase, I talked to him some months ago on the podcast, and he came up with a term called luxury beliefs. Yeah. We're talking about like, you learn how to it's right by direct analogy with the idea of a luxury good right. A Louis Vuitton bag is a physical signal of your social status. Your economic means Do you have a luxury belief is you learn how to carry yourself and, you know, say things a certain way or believe certain ideas as a way to signal Yeah, I'm part of this strata of of the culture,
Leighton Woodhouse 1:05:11
right? What he calls luxury beliefs is what I call moral capital, which is just a sub variant of cultural capital. Because in the past, you know, in gorgeo row has been 20 to 20 years, he wrote primarily in the last century, but you know, and in France, but when when he would write about the sort of the cultural capital of, you know, familiarity with classical music, and with a canonical poetry and stuff like that, that doesn't get you far in America, if you're on a, you know, if you're, like, start talking about Proust or something, people are just gonna think you're an insufferable snob, they're not, it's not gonna get you any status, maybe in some places will still get you status. But if you're much better off with a sort of a set of political and moral beliefs that have that, so that there's been this kind of transition where we've stopped using this knowledge of high culture, and we've started to use as a class signifier, a sensitivity and a subscription to certain political beliefs and values, and, like this very refined sensitivity around how you use the language, you know, like, it's not a coincidence that you now have to there's actually a learning curve, like, it's not enough, just like you grew up working class, and then you have liberal politics, because that's where your material interests are aligned. In fact, you know, a lot of those people are shunned by sort of the most elite tiers as being, you know, brutes, right, because maybe they made a review and considered voting for Trump, because Trump was, you know, railing against the elites. And so they're like, monstrous, right? Whereas, you know, if you're, if you're, if you put if you have a command of the sort of the, the, the lexicon around, you know, centering black bodies, and like these kind of obscure, really bizarre ways of speaking, it that indicates or your your, your, your, your class belonging, and your upper middle class pedigree. And so there's been this sort of shift from the from the cultural capital that Bourdieu wrote about to now in an American context, and increasingly in just a western context to it's the exact same thing, but it's just the sub variants of what I call moral capital and what Rob calls luxury beliefs as these class signifiers.
Nick Jikomes 1:07:28
And so how does it start to tie in to? You know, we were talking about religion earlier, once what, how do elites sort of wield religious or ID ideological concepts in order to secure and protect their status as elites and that could mean, right, that could mean elite in any sense of the word, it could mean someone with a lot of economic capital, it could mean someone with a lot of cultural capital. But how do we start to think about how some of these like ideologies evolve, such that the concepts they're deploying are serving to sort of secure and protect people that have acquired a certain amount of status in society?
Leighton Woodhouse 1:08:04
Well, it's just like, I just wrote a piece that I posted the other day about the historical origins of cultural capital, looking at Norbert Elias his book, civilizing process, I might be mispronouncing his name, because I've always called him Norbert Elias. But then I watched some YouTube videos where people were talking, calling him Le s. So I don't know which one is right. But anyway, I'll stick with Elias, Norbert Elias his book is about the transition from feudalism to this sort of the period of transition from feudalism, capitalism and the development of manners. And there is a point in time in the royal courts, where the the aristocrats were in competition with the rising bourgeoisie. And they had already come to a point of fetishizing manners as a way of signifying your class distinction. And as the bourgeoisie learned those manners, like it's not too hard to figure out which utensils to use, and you know what intonation to give certain languages, like they could, they could, they could adopt those skills, too. And as they did, the aristocrats had to further and further refine their manners and to a point of absurdity. Where it became like a Japanese tea ceremony, you know, but but that was born out of the competition of having to like, every time the bourgeoisie would learn, would would, would learn the appropriate mannerisms and appropriate etiquette, then the aristocrats would, would refine it even more so that they could call the bourgeoisie. So they could continue to call the bourgeoisie is like vulgar pretenders. And I think a similar thing happens with these political beliefs. It's like now it's not enough that you're just like, not overtly racist or not racist at all, you know, and you subscribe to affirmative action and you have like, you know, all these other kinds of conventionally liberal beliefs you have, well, you're still a racist because you're not deploying this particular language because you don't have this even more radical belief and reparations and whatever and like And then once reparations becomes commonly accepted, then it's like well, that's, you know, there will be another tear because it is no longer useful as a as a status conferring class distinct distinction mechanism.
Nick Jikomes 1:10:14
I mean, it really, it really does get sort of down to basic human. Chimps stuff like everyone, everyone wants to be cool, right? Right. Well, you're cool. By definition, you're not everyone can be equally cool. So right, like you have to be cooler than other people. It's almost like, you know, if I try and think back to like, high school or something, like, you start to listen to some like, obscure indie band or whatever, because it's cool. And it distinguishes you from the people who haven't even heard of that band yet. But then, like, everyone starts listening to them. And well, that's not cool anymore. Now you have to find like, the new band that no one else has heard of. It's basically the same thing happening.
Leighton Woodhouse 1:10:47
Yeah, well, I'm Gen X. So I know that very well that like, maybe that's why I'm so drawn to the notion of cultural capital, because of course, in my generation, it was like, you know, when we were kids are famous for that, right? Like, found this cool, edgy thing. And you're like, and then like this, you really, people were forever talking about selling out and they've like, sold out, you sold out, they sold out? Because it was like, once Green Day, right? They're like, everybody loved Green Day. And they were like playing it for Gilman, and they were punk rock. And then all of a sudden, they you know, he got a big record deal. I mean, they literally, like totally sold out in a huge way they admit it. But it's like, once they got popular, then it's like, the worst thing in the world was to listen to every day. So it's like, it was yeah, it's that, that, you know, it was all about Sass competition was like, Well, I'm refined. I'm so edgy. That that, that you know that I'm on top of the like, the newest thing and once everybody starts listening to it's not cool anymore. And that's why I'm so confused and why people my age are so confused by like these like influencers now where it's completely the opposite. It's like they're like, solely here to to be sponsored by brands and to be listened to millions of people. And we're like, wait, but that's not cool. I don't get it doesn't compute.
Nick Jikomes 1:11:55
Yeah, well, one of the things I'm interested in here is, you know, we've been talking about this notion of cultural capital, and social status, and you know, sort of some of the, the psychological and sociological concepts surrounding how, how some of these ideologies evolve, and you know, why people want to wield and use certain ideas to achieve a certain level of social status. With all of that in mind, you know, my background is in like, hardcore, basic research science. So I sort of come from that tradition. And, you know, what's what's sort of really interesting, and what a lot of people go through as they go into graduate school and do their PhD and in their postdoc, and then like, they get higher and higher up the scientific ladder is, you know, there's this sort of this tend to, there's this sort of distinction to be made between, like the I, you know, the idealized version of the process of science. And, you know, science is sort of the special thing that that, you know, is unpolluted by all the other like political and social things that go into science to avoid. And then you sort of come up against the harsh reality of the mechanics of science like, like, how do I actually, socially administratively do the things that allow me to get grants, and, you know, be within the structure that will allow me to do the literal science that I actually want to do. And so, you know, given all the things that we were just talking about how people wield certain, you know, ideas and how certain ideologies evolved to, for people to justify like, how they're going to ascend or protect their social status. How do secular enterprises, including things like science, start to get co opted by elite factions to serve political and social ends?
Leighton Woodhouse 1:13:34
Yeah, I mean, first of all, we saw that so vividly during COVID, right, with a scientist virtue signaling just like everybody, every other idiot on Twitter, but like, I feel like this very what what you're describing as the scientific enterprise very much harkens back to what we're talking about the about the nonprofit industrial complex, where, you know, like, Martin glory writes about this exact thing and the ripples of the public, which is like, we have this consent, we continue to have this conception of scientists, in the way that we conceived of them in like the turn of the century of the turn of the 20th century, the heroic sort of renegade scientist who works alone, you know, Albert Einstein, right, in their lab, pursuing the truth, and, and you know, and like, discarding all the conventions. And that's not how science works anymore, as you know, better than I, you know, now, it is a big bureaucratic process, in which, you know, if you're a successful scientist, first of all, you're always working on a team. Second of all, like if your most successful, the most successful scientists who are running their own labs, right, they get to a point within as as bureaucrats where they have steady funding. They have have a bunch of they have a payroll that they're meeting the small business people basically, they're like they're running their lab, they have their research assistants who are paid. And in order to do that, you need to keep getting your NIH grants right like every year. You have to like that is For most of your mind is renewing those, though is continuing that grant cycle. And so you fall into a pattern of doing the same experiments over and over and over again, every fucking year, right? Like, like, you're just tweaking this thing and you're tweaking that thing, you know that they're going to prove and give you funding the next time, if you're just like, well, we've done these 12 variations, but there's these this up these other four variables that we now have to tweak. So we're gonna do that next year, so give us more money. So it's like, you can be a very, like, genuine scientist with a lot of intellectual integrity and moral integrity and still fall into the pattern of just being on the hamster wheel. Very much in the way that you can go into helping the homeless and be and have all your moral integrity, but you fall into the hamster wheel of just being like, needing to continue that funding and keep the machine going. And and so then you adopt the most convenient ideology that justifies that I'm not sure what the equivalent of that ideology would be among heart scientists, you might you might know that,
Nick Jikomes 1:16:05
well, I'm sort of interested in this phenomenon of, you know, follow the science of the that phrase, and variations of it, that that are being repeated so often now, because on the one hand, of course, someone like me, as someone with a scientific background, totally believes in following science, right. But on the other hand, we both know that follow the science as a social phenomenon. That's not really what it is, it's more or less basically means blindly follow someone with a certain type of credential just because they have it. Or you must believe this thing. And it must be true because one peer reviewed paper in Nature magazine says it could be true, right. And, ironically, it's very unscientific way to think where you should have just met this religious question. It's a religious way to think you're meant to have faith in a faith in the science. Yeah, faith in the science, ironically, in what you can describe, as, you know, the the modern day clergy. So you know, what do you what do you make of this phenomenon? And where do you think it's going? What do you think it's doing like sociologically?
Leighton Woodhouse 1:17:07
Yeah, well, you know, I think that it's, I think that there is a I don't have an answer to that question. But it is a question that I have that I think about, that I try to think about quite a bit, which is this sort of the rise of the professional managerial class and what it's doing to democracy. Because in my mind, democracy is this very messy process. I believe in democracy, I think it's the, you know, the highly imperfect system, which is the best one that will ever have. But democracy, he the, you know, the, the sort of the media crowd that's constantly invoking the death of democracy at the hands of the trumpets, in many ways are the most undemocratic people there are because they're constantly trying to, to block this faction, which I don't know, you know, I'm no fan of Trump. I don't agree with those voters, but they are, but they have a right to have their points of view in a democratic society. And so like, I do think that there's this sort of like, there's this rise, there's this new ruling class that has emerged, it's no longer a capitalist class. It's a capitalists are part of it, but it's this managerial class. And democracy is not the most useful sort of form of government for that ruling class. Ironically, you can say that democracy was the most useful for the capitalist class at the time that that capitalists were undisputedly running things. And that's not to say the capitalists were like some enlightened bunch of like, you know, good hearted people wanted to give everybody a voice, but in a complex in a society with a complex division of labor. Everybody had some, this is very draconian, everybody has some power, even if you're just making widgets, right? Because the economy can't work without your labor power combined with everybody else's. And so you have the system has to grant you some political autonomy, the good system, you're able to make demands on the system in a way that a serf was not able to, because he could do things like organize unions and go on strike. So a democracy was a way in which you could contain which you could essentially like, in sort of a piece, every part of the economy that was necessary for the economy to function, so that's still the case. But we are we have a more bifurcated economy than we used to. And it's very top heavy with this managerial class, so I feel like things this is this, this might sound half baked, because it is I haven't thought all this stuff through. But I do believe that there is a sort of a drift towards technocracy that we're experiencing right now, which is a much more conducive form of public administer ration for the professional managerial class. And democracy is,
Nick Jikomes 1:20:04
let's let's just unpack a couple terms here to make it crystal clear for people who haven't been exposed to them before. You talked about technocracy and you keep talking about this professional managerial class. So what exactly are those two things.
Leighton Woodhouse 1:20:17
So the professional managerial class, I think the best way to describe it is the way that James Burnham who wrote about this class and he wrote about it with he called it the just the managerial class. But he wrote a book in in 1990 41, making a lot of predictions which did not come to pass, but which now seem more relevant than they've been since the time that he wrote the book. So there's, there's like the, you know, back in the 19th century, you had the owning class, you had the capitalists and you had the proletariat. Right, then from a sort of Marxist point of view, which I subscribed to, I think that Marx had the right analysis for 19th century capitalism, you had one set of class interests that the workers had, and one set of class interests that the owners had, and those were irreconcilable, solidly opposed to one another, and you had class struggle emerge from that. But we live in a different capitalism now, in that, you know, over the course of the 20th century, with Fordism, and with the expansion of the federal governments and with a whole bunch of changes that came along with with the advancement of technology, you had this massive new class, which was neither worker nor owner, right, they didn't own the means of production, they didn't own the companies outright, they didn't own the their offices, the buildings, that their desks, their equipment. In that sense, they were like workers, right? When you come to work, you don't own the equipment that you use, the owner owns the equipment is you're just using it the same way you come to work as a white collar worker, and you don't own the office, you don't own the desk and the computer. But you're so in that way, you're like a worker, but you're not like a worker, right? Because your control, because you do control the means of production, even if you don't own them, right, without without the technicians without these these people with a very high degree of expertise. And that's everybody from like, scientific expertise to managers, like people, managers, yeah, people know how to manage the bureaucracy. Yeah.
Nick Jikomes 1:22:13
I mean, it even goes back to your example of like, the software engineers at the New York Times making the app, right, they don't own the New York Times, like a capitalist owned, you know, a factory in 1850. But they literally control like how the thing works. And right they have a disproportionate say in like, how it's going to function.
Leighton Woodhouse 1:22:30
Right. And unlike the proletarians, you know, like, when you have these simple machines, if they go on strike, they have to do a sit down strike really to be able to prevent you from replacing them because they go on strike you strike, you hire replacement workers, because anybody can can do your job, right? In the 19th century with these, these factories, anybody could do that job. Whereas with with these guys, you know, yet not anybody can run the New York Times that very few people can run the New York Times. And, and also very few people can run a bureaucracy of like 500 people, you know, that takes a lot of skill, to have a management skills to be able to know how to organize workflow and all these things that, that it's easy to make fun of as being superfluous jobs, but they're actually highly technical, highly specific, like jobs, that, that these companies would not be able to operate without the without those people doing those jobs. So you have this big tear. And this also includes government workers, and it includes the creative class people. And it includes, you know, academics, there's all these people just do not fit into workers for versus owners who don't own the means of production. But they do control the means of production, as a matter of fact, control them more than those who we used to call the capitalists because like now, like, who owns a publicly traded company, right, like 10,000 stock or individual stockholders, a bunch of sovereign wealth funds, some, you know, some some pension funds, or whatever these aren't like, there's, it's not like it used to be with a guy on top hat and a monocle, who owns the company. It's divided up into all these, these different institutions. And those institutions themselves are run by PMCS. Right? Like if you go to a hedge fund, or you go to a pension fund, you know, most of the people were staffing it belong to the professional managerial class. So who really controls the means of production in the United States, who really own even owns the means of production in the United States, the professional managerial class, which is sort of a fusion between what Marx viewed as the capitalist class and this new set of professionals who marks couldn't even even ever imagined. So that's what I call together the professional managerial class. And it's like everybody who if you've been if you've graduated before your university, and you're in one of these jobs, like media, or or, you know, tech or something, it's pretty much everybody you know, you know, everybody worked with certainly, probably a lot of people in your family and probably most of your friends belong to that class. And that is an end that class is, you know, a distinct minority within America. Most people are working class, most people didn't go to college.
Nick Jikomes 1:25:08
But it strikes me that it probably doesn't feel that way to people within the class. So nominally at least I'm a part of that class, like I have a highly advanced degree, I have a lot of technical skills, I deploy them inside of a private company. That's very technical in nature in terms of what we do, and everyone in my immediate life, my friends, my co workers, stuff, that sort of feels like everyone, that's just what everyone does. But of course, the vast majority of Americans aren't in the bubble that I'm in.
Leighton Woodhouse 1:25:37
There's a book that was recommended to me and that I read and enjoyed by a totally like, persona non grata author, which was Charles Murray, who co wrote the belt, the bell curve. So, you know, it takes some, some some boldness for me to even admit, I read the book, but I actually don't care. The it's an excellent book, and it's called coming apart. And it's about he looks at White America. And the reason why he looks at White America specifically is because he wanted to basically control for the variable of race, and look purely at class. So he was like, he didn't want to look at all of America, because then you have to, he does return to everybody else at the end. But he's like, Okay, let's look at what's happening to people who cannot say that this is because of racial discrimination, or, you know, like, it's just white white people. And he can, he paints a very compelling portrait of a radically bifurcated America in which, so like, he talks about these things called that he calls the super zips, which are these zip code, corridors in which, in which, like, these are contiguous areas of like contiguous zip codes, wherein, like, basically, like 90% of the people within the residence within those zip codes have four year college degrees. And, and then there's these vast oceans of zip codes where nobody does. And so if you live in one of these super steps, and more and more of America has become divided between superscripts and non super zips. If you live in one of these super zips, you'd like you you like the most the most, if you go to a target, you're going to interact with a retail worker. But other than that, you will never like your name, none of your neighbors, nobody at your church, if you still go to church, you know, nobody at your kids swim class, nobody in your in your geographical area is not like you. So yeah, if you live in that world, you're you're you're going to have the impression that this is what America is. And then when people start voting a different way, when people you know who you never, you know, interacted with, who your kids don't go to school with start voting in a way that that you think is is sacrilegious, then it's like the barbarians at the gate, right? It's like, we're surrounded by all these, these these brutish monsters who are voting for Donald Trump. So you know, that class divide is a it's a cultural divide. But it's like an existential cultural divide.
Nick Jikomes 1:28:07
And, you know, in many ways, what we've been talking about what a lot of people have been talking about recently, I mean, for a number of years now is, is this general idea of decline of civilizational decline. And, you know, the way that I start to think about this is, you know, we know that organisms are mortal, right, we grow, we stagnate, we age, we die. All organisms will decay. All companies will decay, I had a really interesting guest named Geoffrey West, who wrote a book called scale, which is all about, you know, comparing how organisms, cities and companies grow and scale and then one case, cases decline. And basically, what he says is, you know, organisms, companies are like organisms, they're mortal. So their internal dynamics are such that, you know, they can't live forever. Cities, on the other hand, can so just to take some trivial examples, like, you know, Hiroshima is still here, I can drop a nuclear bomb on a city, and the city will come back. But of course, that's distinct from from the culture or the civilization that is infusing the city. And he doesn't talk about that in his book, but it seems to me like, right cultures and civilizations are more like organisms than cities themselves, right? They have a time course, like, right, Rome eventually ended Ancient Egypt isn't with us anymore, like cultural cultures and societies bloom, they reach various crisis points, and then they then they decline. So you know, are are we right now in the West broadly, in the US specifically, are we in such a state of decline? And is that an inevitable thing that we just have to go through? Or can we kind of reverse it?
Leighton Woodhouse 1:29:45
I mean, I think we're in a decline. And I would also say that, you know, America kind of cuts against his examples, and I'm sure he probably accounts for this in his theory, but like, you know, we do see dying cities in America, right? Cities that we're dependent upon industrial manufacturing, which are just like ghost towns now, and, but I think that we're in a period of decadence in the United States, I think that we're in a period of, in which, you know, we have a highly sort of privileged class ruling class, which is completely out of touch, maybe more than ever before. With most of the country with a, with a population in most of the country. You know, even the capitalists, you know, the top hat and monocled capitalists of Marx's times time were like, you know, in their factories, presumably like, managing their workforces, and interacting with the working class. Whereas, you know, unless you live in a city like New York, you're if you're, if you belong to the PMC, there's a good chance that you're never having those interactions at all. So I think that we're living in I think that's a very, very dangerous situation for a polity to be in for a Democratic Society to be in. And, and I, but I think the people in that ruling class are going to be fine, right? They're like, it's a very cosmopolitan class, it's the kind of people who can get up and move to London anytime, you know, if they if things get bad enough here, they'll be fine. But the people in the rest of the country, not so fine. I don't want to predict wherever that'll be going. I am reading a book right now called by Peter Zeitlin called the, and the end of the world is just the beginning or something like that, which addresses exactly this question. But I'm not very far into it, and just a couple of chapters into it.
Nick Jikomes 1:31:37
So what was so Durkheim had this, this concept of Anomie. And it ties into some of the things that we touched on to do with, you know, social order, and having, you know, moral coherence among a group. And you know, when certain things break down the whole sort of, you know, you enter into like a state of decline and degradation in a society. So what was this concept of Anomie? And how does, how does what we've been talking about sort of speak to that.
Leighton Woodhouse 1:32:04
So Durkheim wrote this essay called suicide, which was his sort of earliest, most, like sort of foundational work, because it set the stage for the argument that he was making wishes he made throughout his career, which is that society is an entity, sui generis, which means meaning that society is not just the sum total of individuals, society has a reality which is separate and apart from our reality as individuals, and therefore it deserves its own field of study, which is sociology. So in suicide, he looked at the, the incidence of suicide, I think it was in Paris, among Protestants versus Catholics, and found a distinct difference between basically Protestants were far more likely to kill themselves in Catholics, if I'm remembering correctly. And, you know, he attributed it to Protestant sermons much, much more likely to worship alone. And, and it's much less centered upon the congregation, they were much more they tend to be more isolated from one another. So from that he kind of extrapolated this theory of like social Anomie. Where, when you don't have what's, you know, what a lot of sociologists called social capital boards, you wrote about social capital, as well. But he wrote about it in a different way than like, writers like Robert Putnam, who's who's very famous for writing about social capital, right about social capital, that sort of the conventional American way of looking at social capital is, is the is things like, you know, baseball teams and bowling leagues and churches and the things that bring us together. So social capital is something that's community communally held. So like it within a community, community that's high. And social capital, is a community that has a lot of institutions that bring people together. And we've been losing, and everybody understands, like everybody's looks at this agrees that we've been losing social capital for the past 100 years, we live our lives entirely separate from each other, there is one big sort of variable which needs to be accounted for which the internet which is brought, which has divided us and brought us together in different ways. So that complicates the picture. But people aren't joining voluntary societies anymore. And as we become more isolated from each other, there's a consequence to socially to us, collectively, there's, there's a deterioration of the social fabric. And, and we experience it on a personal level, like people get depressed. And a physical level people start to develop, you know, medical conditions that they didn't used to have, because of their reactions to emotional stress and things like that, you know, diabetes, stuff like that. And and so that's all part of Anomie. And I think, you know, there's a good case for taking a look at what's happening in the city of San Francisco, because certainly the the chaos and lawlessness which people are exposed to every day and We see it every day has, you know, has psychological effects. For one thing, people probably spend a lot more time locked up in their homes, you know, because it feels unsafe to go outside parties participate less than public life. There's there's public spaces, which people don't go to anymore, because they've been taken over by Samsung gamuts. So, you know, my expectation would be that if you could measure the social solidarity, and the social capital, from, like, 30 years ago to today in San Francisco, you probably see a pretty precipitous drop off, like more so than the rest of the country.
Nick Jikomes 1:35:37
And are you? You're a parent, is that accurate? And the parent? Yeah. So, you know, with your perspective, being a parent, how do you think, you know, things like parenting and fertility rates and demographic shifts play into this, this notion of civilizational decline or Anomie? You know, when you look at the fact that we have an aging population, that needs to be supported in the ways that that older people inevitably will need to be supported. When you think about like the, I think, quite strong drop in fertility rates that we're seeing in the US and elsewhere. How do you think that ties into the trajectory we're on as a society?
Leighton Woodhouse 1:36:15
Yeah, well, it's funny, because when I grew up, everybody's freaking out about overpopulation, which is like, the social conditions for that concern rising up could fill an entire other podcast because a lot of it has to do, in my opinion with Misanthropy. And a lot of it gave rise to, to elements of the alt right. But the, but, you know, everybody's freaking out about overpopulation. And now, of course, we're in a reality in which, you know, most of the advanced capitalist world is well below replacement level in terms of facility. Europe is below replacement level, Japan is way below replacement level famous for it. And America has been below replacement level. And the main reason why it hasn't really impacted us in the way that it's impacting Europe is because of our immigration policies. You know, I'm, I'm, by the way, you know, quite pro immigration, even though I want to see all these Hunter and drug dealers in San Francisco deported right away. On generally on immigration, I'm, I'm quite liberal, I think that immigration has saved the United States in a way that it hasn't with Europe, because we are we because we do have such a low replace low fertility level. So I think that's going to catch up, you get filled backstop it with immigration forever. And, and, and if you do, if you just have to, then there's all sorts of other, you know, ancillary consequences that come along with it, not all of which are good. And so yeah, I think it's, I think it's a big problem. It's not one I have any sort of expertise in or anything particularly insightful to offer. But you know, I think you look at Japan, and you see, you know, 10 years into the future of the United States, and it's not good.
Nick Jikomes 1:38:02
And so I don't think we mentioned up front, but you run a sub stack. I read your articles fairly frequently. It's one of my favorite sub stacks. Thank you. Can you point people to that, but also maybe just kind of summarize, like, what do you think you write about a lot of different subjects. And there's a lot of richness there. But there does seem to be kind of like overarching themes to what you're interested in what you write about. So how would you summarize that for people?
Leighton Woodhouse 1:38:26
Yeah, so my sub stack is Leighton Woodhouse. Dotsub stack.com. And since my first name is difficult to spell, I'll just spell it which is Li gh t o n. Woodhouse is just how it sounds. But you know, I don't. So the big themes that I write about in my substack are number one, I report quite a bit about crime and drugs. And so some of that makes it into my substack. It's not every week, but it's, you know, it's consistent theme. And then I write a lot about the professional managerial class, which we've described today, I write a lot about social theory. So I've read from, you know, Vabre, to Bourdieu, to Durkheim, Marx, etc. I tried to factor or I just, I guess I'm naturally inclined to factor a lot of that into my, into my writing. But, you know, I am not sure what brings those two threads together. I don't know if there is a thread to bring those two things together. But I it has occurred to me that I tend to write about the elite. And then I tend to write about the least elite, which is like, you know, what Marx called the lump and proletariat, right? drug users, people who are truly marginalized from society, you know, homeless, street addicts. And, and I think that there's a I don't know that I could describe persuasively what exactly what ties those two themes together, but I think that they both tell a story about America Uh, I think that they both, I think that they both have dark implications for the future of this country. The fact that this, you know, this population of, of homeless drug addicts is growing and growing, and is subsuming more and more of our cities. And more people are falling into that category. You know, middle class kids like it used to be that, you know, as people who lived lives of lots of trauma who had volunteered to addiction, but now the drugs have become so powerful, that you can make one mistake, the kind of mistakes I used to make all the time as a teenager, you know, you order Xanax on Snapchat, just fuck around, you know, and you get fentanyl in it. And, and you end up hooked on fentanyl. Like, you can come from a very stable background with no trauma in your life and end up homeless street athletes that like that's happening. So there's also that phenomenon. So you have that sort of reality in America growing. And then at the same time, you have this like, highly, increasingly intolerance, in my opinion, like politically and socially and culturally intolerance, ruling class, a merging, which believes itself to be so virtuous that it thinks of itself as the saviors of democracy, but I think that they that there are cultural instincts among that class that pose severe hazards to democratic society. So those are some various kind of threads that I try to weave together.
Nick Jikomes 1:41:34
What's something that makes you feel optimistic or potentially optimistic about the future? Is there anything going on? Yeah, culturally, that gives you that sense of optimism.
Leighton Woodhouse 1:41:47
I think I was much more cynical before I started to hang out and collaborate with Michael Shellenberger, who, you know, is persona non grata among a certain faction of of the left because he's been willing to buck a lot of orthodoxies. But, but the irony is that his vision for the world which he backs up with his research is far more optimistic than, you know, than the conventional views on the left, like, you know, he wrote a book about climate change his background is in his in environmental activism, and, and specifically an energy policy and it's a big booster of nuclear nuclear energy. And, you know, he debunked a lot of the doom and gloom stories about climate change. I do think climate change is real and I do think that climate change is a profound threat it does concern me but I but I also think that there's a messianic sort of vibe within the left that there's some sort of like weird eroticism about the end of the world that people are like romantically attracted to and and I think a lot of that factors into climate change it's and it was the same kind of instinct that factored into the idea that we were going to overpopulate the planet and that the planet was was going to reach its carrying capacity by like, you know, 1998 or something and fall into oblivion of course that didn't happen. When you look at the actual facts you know, some of these these these dystopian fairy fairy tales start to fall apart at the seams when you look at like the the the the the promise of nuclear power, which has become started to become de stigma destigmatize even on the left in recent months really, when you look at like liquid natural gas and how it's not actually I'd like how it is a practical bridging technology to to other cleaner energies and it's far cleaner than fossil fuels, you start to see these stupid decisions being made around like Germany cutting off shutting down its nuclear power and then now getting cut off from nuclear from from liquid natural gas from from Russia. So in other words, they're turning back to fossil fuels. So you start to start to see these boneheaded policies that make you more depressed about the future. But when you see the material possibilities of smarter decisions that could be made. That makes me a lot more optimistic. Like I don't think that the I think that the most dystopian threats that we face are not the ones that most people are looking at, I think that there are things like the cultural divides that we have the like social Anomie. The the, the, you know, countries becoming more isolated from one another. There's like all these sort of social sociological indices which are going in the wrong direction. And I'm very concerned about those. I will throw in one thing that I think it's probably not enough play just because I read a book about it, but which you might know No more than I do, because this gets into the natural sciences. But after reading, listened to an episode of Rogan, I read Shonda Swann, I think is her name, her book about flights, and about the microplastics and how they're basically making us all infertile. And it was pretty persuasive. And I was like, holy shit if this is true, like, nevermind climate change, like, yeah, go extinct as a species within a couple generations.
Nick Jikomes 1:45:24
Yeah, I'm not a super expert in that area. But I feel reasonably confident in saying that, yeah, what, you know, for lack of a better term, what modernity has done, among other things is polluted are ingesting environment. We're literally consuming into our bodies, knowingly and unknowingly through food and literally through our skin and other things, many things which are just mucking with us and our endocrinology and other aspects of our biology. And I think it's it is having very real consequences for people's physical health and their psychology.
Leighton Woodhouse 1:45:55
Yeah, the ain't no genital distance, the tensile has been, like getting smaller and smaller generation to generation. And by the way, it's not just humans, it's happening in all types of animals. And as they and as that distance has gotten smaller, they become less and less fertile. It's really scary stuff. But you know, I'm also I'm skeptical about any sort of, like, claims to, you know, the end of the the end of civilization at the end of, I'm very open to arguments about the slow decline of civilization, and somehow more skeptical about these ideas of the sudden, like cliffs that were that were inevitably going to fall over, just because I think that there's so much glory in writing about that stuff. And there's so much of a weird emotional appeal to those kinds of visions that I that I that I'm like, Okay, what's at work here? Is it? Is this real? Or is this like, fulfilling some weird psychic need?
Nick Jikomes 1:46:43
Yeah. And, you know, one last thing I want to ask you about is just, you know, as a writer, as a journalist, you've chosen the substack route, as many, many people have an increasing number over the last few years, you know, given the general environment of journalism, you know, all the way from, you know, the New York Times and sort of the classic journalistic institutions, to the independent writing that's happening on substack. What made you go to substack? How has that been going? And what do you see there in terms of how the writing and writers and the dissemination of ideas and how the interface is with tech? Where do you see that going?
Leighton Woodhouse 1:47:21
Well, for myself, it's kind of funny, I'm kind of a loser, actually, when it comes to being a journalist, because, you know, before I was provided my substack, and I was I've been freelancing for many years. And, and I applied and applied and applied and applied and applied for staff positions in many different publications and like, like, I wasn't even getting interviews. And I don't know why, like, I consider myself a fairly decent reporter just to like on basic journalism, but like, but like, my going to substack was not like a like, like it was with, let's say, Glenn Greenwald, like a, you know, like a real triumphant move, it was more like, Oh, I'll try this out. Because, like, you know, it's another source of income. And it's been very, like, you know, I've had modest success with substack. I'm not, like, you know, one of the top sub stackers. But it's been a significant part of my overall sort of income for portfolio. So it's been very, that's more successful than I expected it to be. And but, you know, I found since since that happened, like, I'm sort of, I'm very, very glad that I never got those interviews. Because a because I really enjoy writing independently. Like now writing freelance isn't just about writing freelance isn't just, like, unnecessary as these it's not just like my backup plan, it's like, I actually really enjoy that much more than if I was taking assignments from editors. But also, because of the freedom that I have to explore all these really nerdy topics that I'm able to explore on substack has been very fulfilling to me. So it's those two things in combination with the fact that the direction that the media has gone, I would be enormously unhappy. If I was on the staff of, say, The New York Times, or the staff of even like, you know, the intercept, who I used to write for quite a bit, it would be absolutely miserable.
Nick Jikomes 1:49:14
So yeah, yeah, like one of the things I love about reading you and other people on substack is that there's really two things one, because it's independent writing, it's an individual not reporting to, you know, one or more editors and things like that. You do get to explore these nerdy topics and sort of infuse stories with ideas and concepts that probably wouldn't get greenlighted at, you know, a traditional media outlet. And to just that, I know that it's an individual. So whether or not I agree with any particular thing that you say or that you're writing about, it's very clear that this is you know, it's a good piece of writing that's been edited and polished, but it's not finished going through the same filters, right, that it would go through elsewhere. And you just you really do get the sense on substack that you are Hearing the sort of raw, polished but still raw thoughts of an individual human being?
Leighton Woodhouse 1:50:06
Yeah, there's been a lot of talk about how substack has kind of opened up avenues for people without, with unorthodox political views. And that's true. And that's been a big value that substance has added to the world. But also just in terms of the nerdy stuff, like, received Khan as a friend and, and one of my favorite sub stacks. And, you know, he's able to write these like 10,000 word pieces about like, the genetic origins of the Vikings and they're, like migration patterns into Russia in like, the third century AD or whatever blacks like probably much earlier than that. And like these, like, you know, in like, he writes about that stuff all over the world, the migration from Korea to Japan and like, among like, you know, like primitive tribal Hunter gathering peoples, and he like, has extremely successful substack there's a lot of people reading it, myself included, and it's like, that stuff used to be relegated to academia. And it was they were inaccessible journals in in very obscure obscure academic language. And as it turns out, there's like, there's a big readership for some pretty nerdy stuff. And I think that that is just intellectually a huge contribution that substack has made to the world.
Nick Jikomes 1:51:21
All right, well, Leighton Woodhouse thank you for your time. Why don't you just tell everyone where your sub SEC is once more just in case they missed it?
Leighton Woodhouse 1:51:28
Yeah. Leighton Woodhouse. That's li ght o n. Leighton woodhouse.substack.com. And the subject is called Social Studies.
Nick Jikomes 1:51:36
All right, well, that's it. Thanks again. Thank you so much.