2023.04.16 Why WaitButWhy Guy?

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Just to be clear, and as apology for my mouthful of alliteration of a title that made me laugh for no reason¹, the "guy" I'm talking about is Tim Urban - he's the fellow who writes the Wait But Why blog. I love that blog, because Tim has a modality where he gets interested in some random thing and then furiously burrows down to the bottom of that rabbit hole and tells you all about his adventure with bad stick drawings. It appeals to several facets of my overly-nerdy trivia-addicted likes-to-know-stuff personality.

So when he resurfaced recently, saying most of what he had been doing during his reclusion was writing a book, I absolutely knew that I had to read that book. 1) Sounds like an epic rabbit hole. 2) Direct support of a person whose work I appreciate.

It's "What's Our Problem?" - with the tag line "the self-help book for societies". Like, the mother of all rabbit holes. I girded myself, and dove in.

Both aspects of the title are... kinda wrong.

I actually finished reading it a while ago, because I downloaded it the instant it became available. But I've had to spend a little time working through my disappointment and sadness about the book, and its cascade of introspection about my own assumptions.

Much of the content includes things that I already saw in nascent form on WaitButWhy, and remain brilliant bits of thought experiment. And I particularly appreciate the way Tim's way of thinking challenged some of the ways in which I have let myself become lazy with respect to being numb to much of the Republican actions in the culture war / cold civil war.

BUT (and I actually backed up to capitalize that for effect) it falls down pretty fast and hard in the book about half-way though. Full respect for Tim, as he even flags this transition point saying that many people will be unhappy (and awkwardly alludes to there being torches and pitchforks about it). For all his forest of references and assurances about open-mindedness, Tim starts oversimplifying, cherry-picking, and false-equivalancizes (new word trademarked by me) his way to suggesting that the problem is wokeness (whatever that is this week) and a powerful cabal he refers to as Social Justice Fundamentalists.

Which is short-hand for "privileged person wants things to go back to how they were".

I simply don't have the energy to take the time to challenge all the ways I think he's wrong. Aside from proposing that instead of SJF having any significant power that instead some ideas of addressing institutional inequity have become actually fundamentally persuasive because rigorous insight suggest they're uncomfortably true. And I'm a little pissed at Tim for giving me hope that he would have some good suggestions about it. But no. Just fucking painting some whiney shit that agrees with his feelings and no useful ways to address anything.

Then I remembered his posts about Elon Musk. Oh, man, the embarrassing agony of how much I was sucked into that nepo-1-percenter's atrocious bullshit. And Tim helped cement that for me by writing an entire fucking serious of fluff pieces about him. How in the everloving fuck did his utter tool-ness and actual technical cluelessness get conveniently missed? Is it because, oh-I-don't-know, maybe Tim likes to wax extensively about things he wishes were so.

TL;DR - person I identified with, liked², and respected spent a sabbatical to discover that they're actually many of the things I'm frightened about myself being blind about. Boo.

¹ Other things that make me laugh much more than they should for no reason include "Joan of Bark" as a name option for our puppy. Just to put things in perspective for how utterly about my own amusement everything here is.

² That bit being past tense is perhaps a bit silly. I suspect that Tim Urban is still a pretty cool person that I like; I'm just being angsty.