Dao Du Jour II, Day 57: Abuses of Enchantment

Chapter 56: Mysteries of Power

“Who knows doesn’t talk. 

Who talks doesn’t know.

Closing the openings, 

shutting doors, 

blunting edge, 

loosing bond, 

dimming light. 

Be one with the dust of the way.”

Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, trans. Ursula K. Leguin (Shambhala, Boulder: 2019)

Today’s fracas over The Joe Rogan Experience is not an isolated incident. Whenever you come across a flashpoint in the culture wars, it’s time to hit the brakes and consider the iceberg.

One of the keystones of our post-truth infoscape was laid down by Rush Limbaugh, what he called the “Four Corners of Deceit”: Media (!), Academia, Government, and Science (it’s fun to play with the possible acronyms—SMAG, which grazes the dragon Smaug, and MAGS, which flirts with MAGA). Limbaugh articulated key tenants in the tacit theology that would come to define not just right-wing talk radio and the conservative media ecosystem, but a sizable portion of the American electorate disenchanted with and distrustful of institutions in general. Each of the corners—and degree and mix of skepticism and paranoia that surround them—is different, but they are connected by three ideas: that the godless elites in charge are lying to you to maintain and increase their profits, power, prestige, and paternalism; that they think they are better than you; and that they want to destroy America.

Disregard for the moment that, as with Trump, the proper way to confront this attitude is to see it as either confession or projection. No one is more deceitful, cynical, supercilious, and unpatriotic than Limbaugh and latter-day MAGS acolytes like Tucker Carlson. Take your judgment out of the equation, and simply marvel at the scale of the achievement. One of the greatest tricks modernity pulled was convincing the world that the Middle Ages no longer existed. Put another way, that everyone in the Middle Ages was superstitious, and that everyone in the modern world is rational and scientific. We know better. As Nietzsche’s thoroughly modern last man chirps, “formerly all the world was mad.” Bruno Latour put it well when he said that we have never been modern, we have merely exchanged one form of enchantment for another. Our failure to see this is why we have trouble comprehending Trump, Fox News, and our post-truth condition.

The mistake is to write off the people bewitched by these charlatans as, well, bewitched—and, worse, as intellectually and morally inferior. The mistake is to brandish and bray about Science, Logic, and Facts in outrage and exasperation. It’s easy to quote the Daodejing and point out that the charlatans talk but do not know. It’s harder to recognize and resist your own tendency to do the same. If you react to those who talk but don’t know by just talking back, you will only compound their ignorance and betray your own. 

Before you “stand with” or “against” Joe Rogan, figure out where you are actually standing. It usually isn’t where you think.

New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”

What Do You Think?