Phish intro

From Sam Murray

Sam Murray’s answer to What are the best Phish songs?

If you are new to Phish, I highly recommend listening to the podcast Analyze Phish by Harris Wittels and Scott Aukerman. These two comedy writers argue about the merits of Phish, explore different songs, and relate them to various their artists. Harris Wittels died a few years ago from an overdose, but the gist of the podcast is him trying to convince Scott Aukerman to like Phish. The Earwolf link is here but you can also get it on iTunes.

Lots of links in your answer, Sarah, but I’ll start with the erudite explanation.

Why were consumer goods important symbols of progress for both Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon in the Kitchen Debate?

That is a very good question, Dan. I look forward to many more from you!

I’m pleasantly surprised that you’ve asked me, but I’ll run with that. With Ambrose’s biography of Nixon as my guide.

The Kitchen Debate was an impromptu kind of affair, that both Nixon and Khruschev had a blast doing. Nixon was there to defend Capitalism on Communism’s home turf, to assert that Capitalism worked for people—against accusations that it left people impoverished and uncared for. The American Exhibition, with its model kitchen, was in Moscow, to demonstrate on Communism’s home turf that Capitalism worked for people.

The Exhibition tried to prove that through consumer goods. What’s interesting, as you perceptively point out, is that Khruschev did not exactly reject the notion that consumer goods are a good thing for people. He just thought Communism would deliver them more efficiently.

Let me burble up some of the presuppositions of Capitalism working for people, and how Nixon and Khruschev addressed them.

1. People are better off if they are happier.

Some political philosophers may have been in the asceticism business, but Khruschev was not: he did not say anything to contradict that. What had gotten Khruschev’s goat at the start of the Kitchen Debate was the Captive Nations resolution from Congress, saying people were slaves in the Soviet Union. Khruschev hugged a burly labourer, and proclaimed that guy was no slave, and “with men with such spirit how can we lose?” If Khruschev was going to say people’s happiness was immaterial, why bother to assert that their spirit was strong?

2. People are happier if they have more consumer goods.

That was the point of the Model Kitchen being there to begin with. It was the point of Nixon’s speech that evening, opening the American Exhibition: as Ambrose puts it, “It was designed to make everyone wish he or she had been born in the U.S.A.” And he made the explicit link of consumer gods, to affluence for all, to people’s happiness: the statistics he rattled off showed

That the United States… has from the standpoint of distribution of wealth come closest to the idea of prosperity for all in a classless society.

It was also the point of Nixon saying during the Kitchen Debate that the Soviets might be ahead in rockets, but the US was ahead in other things, “color television, for instance.” Khruschev did not respond with “You can shove your opiate of the masses, who needs your jabbering box, we got Shostakovich and Pasternak!” No, he said:

—No, we are up with you on this, too. We have bested you in one technique and also in the other.

—You see, you never concede anything.

—I do not give up.

3. People are happier if consumer goods save labour time for them.

This one, Khruschev did dispute, though in a very old fashioned, patriarchal way. Yes, Nixon went patriarchal first (it was 1959), but Khruschev’s answer does sound like forced asceticism:

—Anything that makes women work less is good.

—We don’t think of women in terms of capitalism. We think better of them.

4. People are happier if they have access to a diversity of consumer goods.

That’s a genuine, and inevitable clash between them. Nixon:

To us, diversity, the right to choose, the fact that we have a thousand different builders, that’s the spice of life. We don’t want to have a decision made at the top by one government official saying that we will have one type of house. That’s the difference.

Khruschev (paraphrased):

Khruschev said it was inefficient to produce so many types of washing machines or houses, and delivered another sermon on the superiority of Soviet products.

5. Consumer goods are better delivered by Capitalism.

Khruschev started the debate by imagining the Soviet Union catching up with and overtaking the US, and waving at the US from its own fast car. (He mimed the waving. Of course.) So clearly he thought that it was a matter of time until Communism delivered—predicting that they would catch up to the US in 7 years, making it 50 years of Soviet Communism beating 200 years of American Capitalism.

Was he talking about just military tech, or virtue? No. Housing and modcons too. Nixon say says the model home they were being filmed in was worth $14k, and affordable to American workers; his point, after all, is that everyone can be happy under Capitalism. Khruschev disputes that; citing Ambrose’s paraphase,

In Russia everyone had a house. In America, only if a person had dollars did he have a house—otherwise he slept on the pavement. “And you say we are slaves!”

Yes, that Captive Nations resolution *really* got to him.

Khruschev doesn’t say the Capitalist model home is frippery; he says their Soviet homes are better, and he incidentally points to a genuine flaw of consumerism:

— [American houses] will not last longer than 20 years. We put that questions to your capitalists and they said, “In 20 years we will sell them another house.” We build firmly. We build for our children and grandchildren. We use bricks.

He’s not actually wrong there, in principle. (Although no, I’ll pass on living in a Soviet apartment, 20 to a room.) But he’s not disputing people’s entitlement to be happy through modcons.

6. People’s happiness through access to more consumer goods is a better indicator of progress than military prowess.

Jack Kennedy dinged Nixon on that very point in their third presidential debate, later in the year. Trying to out-hawk the Eisenhower Administration. Yes, you have just fallen through the looking glass:

You yourself said to Khruschev, “You may be ahead of us in rocket thrust but we’re ahead of you in color television” in your famous discussion in the kitchen. I think that color television is not as important as rocket thrust.

But Nixon himself stepped back from consumerism being the ultimate metric of progress. As Ambrose paraphrases the speech Nixon gave in the evening of the Kitchen Debate,

Impressive as the material achievements of the United States were, however, they paled beside other, more important triumphs: “To us, progress without freedom is like potatoes without fat.”

Why are you following more than 100 people on Quora, and what effect does this have on your feed? Can you really give attention to all your followers’ content?

My proportions are probably different to McKayla Kennedy’s, but her answer is what I’d give: McKayla Kennedy’s answer to Why are you following more than 100 people on Quora, and what effect does this have on your feed? Can you really give attention to all your followers’ content? I follow people I want to hear more of, or I want to encourage. And like I’ll bet almost all Quorans, I never prune the list. I am somewhat picky about following, and I don’t auto-follow those that follow me.

I also refuse to follow anyone with more than 10k followers. (The limit used to be 1k.) If the superstars of Quora have something I’m likely to be interested in reading, chances are it’ll end up in my feed anyway.

There are three or four frequent posting Quorans who are my close friends, and from whom I expect to see every solitary word they answer with. The feed typically complies. The rest, I don’t mind seeing less frequently, and I don’t think that lessens my regard for them. McKayla included. 🙂

I’ve caught myself wondering what Joseph Boyle’s feed must be like: follows 19k, followed by 18k. “A kaleidoscope,” I once speculated to someone.

What do you do if someone thanks you on Quora for an answer?

I think, “Hello right back to you, Edward Conway”, since he’s the only person I know that thanks me systematically.

I’ve found out that he thanks only once or twice a day, and he upvotes a lot more than that, so I am now very happy to see it!

Other than that, as always, what McKayla Kennedy said. We do disagree about things, I’m sure (or at least, I think), but this certainly isn’t one of them.

Is there any function of swearing?

Terry Casalou has the answer here I like the most. (Vote #1: Terry Casalou’s answer to Is there any function of swearing?)

Swearing is a form of communication that includes our passion level.

I’d like to dig a little deeper. Why does swearing do that?

Breaking taboos is one mechanism of indicating passion. Not the only one, but certainly one designed to get maximum attention. It correlates with extremity of passion: you’re saying you’re so worked up, you’re prepared to violate a social taboo. It used to be taboos on religion (Goddamn, Zounds = God’s Wounds, Gadzooks = God’s Hooks), then it was taboos on sex (Fuck, Cunt, Jerk). Taboos on excretion (Shit, Piss) have never really gone away. And the taboos vary widely by culture.

There’s some constraints.

  • On the one hand, the taboo has to be relevant still. Zounds now sounds ridiculous, and you have the apocryphal anecdotes of kids not brought up religious, and wondering why Jesus Christ is named after a swear word.
  • On the other hand, the taboo can’t be so strong that you will trigger genuine revulsion. The taboo on racist discourse is very strong in the US, and there’s good reason for that. Saying “nigger nigger nigger” just so you can show how angry you are or to get a rise out of someone is not really a good idea—although you can see why the alt-right gets their Freedom Of Expression kicks out of it.

Different subcommunities within a language community are going to have different norms of what is acceptable. You need to be aware of those norms, to avoid either getting your head kicked in, or laughed at.

(Vote #1: Terry Casalou’s answer to Is there any function of swearing?)

Has Ezra Pound’s poetry influenced any lyricists/songwriters in particular, or perhaps particular songs?

User, how do I repay you for your following me, and for your exquisite sensitivity with the English language?

With a joke answer.

TISM: a humorous band of the 80s–00s in Australia. Its membership overrepresented by English teacher types.

  • They had a poem about Wilfred Owen, who at the time featured in the Year 12 curriculum (Song: Gas! Gas! An Ecstasy of Fumbling. With the chorus: “Come on baby, lemme take you home. /I’m as sexy as Wilfred Owen.”)
  • They had a rant about Jim Morrison being a bad poet beloved of teenagers who could not understand William Blake.
  • And they had this:

TISM: Mistah Elliot – He Wanker

Well… TS Elliot lost his wallet
When he went into town,
Serves him right for hanging out
With the likes of Ezra Pound.
TS Elliot thinks he’s famous
because he’s a genius,
But don’t you know I’m ambivalent
About the modernist achievement.


… If you unfollow me after this, Anya, I understand.