Question Time

by Jonah Goldberg
Answering questions about the new book, The Couch, and podcasting in the nude.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Particularly the ones who will forgive me for what follows),

As Bill Clinton told the intern when he pulled a blindfolded chicken out of a sack, today we’re going to try something different.

I think everyone — and by “everyone,” I mean mostly me — could use a break from the usual fare around here. We’re six months into the Trump presidency and I figured it’s time to take stock, as Al Sharpton probably told the mob before it torched Freddy’s Fashion Mart.

Besides, in the last year or so, we’ve attracted a lot of new readers — and lost a few old ones — and so I thought I’d fill in some blanks for folks. I’m not going to FAQ with you necessarily, because I think some of the most frequently asked questions don’t lend themselves to particularly edifying answers. And, I think a great many of them tend to be rhetorical. For example, “Why don’t you eat sh*t and die?” is one of those questions that sort of answers itself.

So, instead, we’ll go with something like a Socratic dialogue, with you Dear Readers as my Thrasymachus.

Q: Why do you begin every “news”letter with “Dear Reader”? And while we’re on the topic, why do you always put “news” in quotation marks? And who is this Couch that you’re often talking to?
M: That’s more than one question, but I see where you’re going. I begin with the Dear Reader thing because the G-File is supposed to be a letter. When the suits asked me to revive the G-File a few years ago as an e-mail newsletter, I threw scalding coffee in Lowry’s face and said, “How dare you sir!? I am not a purveyor of ‘news.’” I keep the Dear Reader gag (the often pointedly unfunny joke in the parentheses) in there because every time I leave it out, the Dear Readers give me a hard time about it. Personally, I can’t stand the thing anymore, but I am a slave to tradition.

Q: But it’s not really an e-mail newsletter anymore. It’s a stupid e-mail with a link to just another article on the web.
M: I know, that’s really annoying.

Q: Why did the suits do that?
M: Why do they half of what they do? I’m still trying to figure out why Charles Cooke’s office is just a miniature version of Stonehenge with a single stone stool in the middle. Anyway, as I understand it, it has something to do with vertical integration.

Q: Wait, Charlie Cooke is a suit?
M: Well he runs NRO now, and he’s constantly hocking me about my TPS reports. He’s not British Shaggy anymore.

Q: How do you think NRO is doing?
M: Better than it ever did when I was “running” things. Traffic is through the roof. We don’t rely on blood sacrifice as much. I guess the only problem is the Corner isn’t what it once was.

Q: Why is that?
M: Well, when we started it, my idea was to have it be a kind of window on the broader conservative conversation, demonstrating that there’s a lot of diversity of thought on the right. And for a while, it was awesome (Fun fact: Andrew Breitbart loved it and modeled the original Huffington Post on it). But that type of conversation has kind of moved to Twitter and podcasts now. Also, the conversational group-blog model requires a lot of time and effort to work. And most of us are hard-pressed to spend all day hanging out in the Corner like we used to. Still, when I finally have the book off my hands, I plan on hanging out there a lot more often, if for no other reason than to get Lowry to stop driving by my house and shooting out my porch light with a BB gun.

Q: So, about this book, what’s it about?
M: Ask me that again and I’ll drive a ballpoint pen through your forehead.

Q: C’mon.
M: Okay, well, it’s sort of a prequel to Liberal Fascism in the sense that I look at where ideological movements come from and why I think Western civilization is in real trouble. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things over the last couple years. I still stand by LF, but I think intellectual history isn’t just a game of playing connect the dots. Philosophy, ideology, etc. are downstream of human nature, and human nature doesn’t change, which is why the same ideas keep popping up over and over again. We keep reinventing the same ideas with new labels again and again. Sometimes, they get called “right-wing”; sometimes, they get called “left-wing.” But statism is statism, whatever label you stick on it. Collectivism is tribalism whether you call it socialism or nationalism, fascism or Communism. The only really — really — new thing of the last 10,000 years is the miracle of liberal democratic capitalism, and I think we’re losing our commitment to it. I guess you could say I’ve become more Nockian and Schumpeterian. But everyone will be hearing plenty more about that soon enough.

Q: Does that mean you’ll be turning this “news”letter into a shameless vehicle for book promotion?
M: No. I’ll feel some shame.

Q: Will you keep doing the G-File if readers don’t buy the book?
M: I wouldn’t put it in such stark terms. Those are your words, not mine.

Q: Is this a good example of paralipsis or apophasis?
M: I, for one, would never say anything like that.

Q: What do you think of the White House’s new immigration proposal?
M: I haven’t studied it.

Q: Is that a dodge?
M: Sort of. I will say that the reaction has been ridiculous. The idea that it’s racist to control your borders or copy Canada is bonkers. It’s also funny. Liberals love to insist that Europe or Canada or Scandinavia does things in a more enlightened way. But say, “Okay, let’s have Canada’s immigration policy or France’s national-security policies or Switzerland’s health-insurance system” and the same people freak out. So much of the “They do things better over there” stuff is really just a rationalization for people to say, “You should do what I want” or “America is backward because it doesn’t do what I want it to do.”

Q: So, who is “the Couch?”
(“Don’t answer that!” — The Couch)

Q: Is it awkward that your wife works for the Trump administration?
M: Not really, she works for Nikki Haley (whom I admire a great deal and from what I can tell has done a great job). I was worried that I would cause problems for her. But the Fair Jessica told me from the get-go that I shouldn’t self-censor, for which I am very grateful.

Q: Are you going to do a podcast?
M: It looks like it.

Q: How’re you going to do it?
M: Mostly in the nude, which is going to make getting in-studio guests awkward. Oh, you mean what format am I going to use? I’m open to suggestions. But the one thing I don’t want to do is straightforward interviews. It’s not my strength, and if this really lame G-File is any indication, I think most readers would agree.

Q: Why do you hurt me, Jonah? I’ve always been loyal to you.
M: Shut up or I will go back to killing you with alcohol.

Q: Why do you always write about your dogs?
M: Well, if you mean the “Canine Update,” that started because Zoë almost died from parvo when she was a puppy and readers kept asking about her. Then, when she got better and we realized she wasn’t a German Shepherd mix but a Carolina dog, people liked the stories about the Dingo. Now, I keep hearing from people who say they only read the G-File for the doggie updates. I’ll often ask my wife if she read the G-File and she’ll say, “Well, I read the part about the dogs.” More generally, I do it because A) I really like dogs, particularly my dogs. I love my wife and daughter but I get out of bed every day because of my dogs. Of course, I mean that literally, not figuratively: They wake me up every damn morning. B) People like dogs because dogs are good. And C) I think dogs are a great reminder that a lot of the most joyful and meaningful things in life are outside politics or even work and money. My dogs don’t care what my position on Donald Trump is. They don’t care what kind of car I drive — so long as it goes to the park and the windows roll down. Dogs are good.

I’ll often ask my wife if she read the G-File and she’ll say, ‘Well, I read the part about the dogs.’

Q: Why do you always make jokes about Bill Clinton’s sexcapades? Aren’t there less-dated butts for your jokes?
M: Yes, but those jokes have a long tradition of existence in this “news”letter.

Q: Will you ever write a novel?
M: I hope so. I never planned on being a pundit. I wanted to write comic books and sci-fi. I kind of stumbled into this life. I have several ideas, but I need time and/or f-you money.

Q: Would it be political?
M: What? God no. I mean, there’d be politics in it. There’s politics in lots of great fiction because politics is about human nature, and that’s what fiction is about. But I’d rather sit next to Sally Kohn on every flight I ever take from now on than write some “Washington novel.” I don’t think Washington is all that interesting of a place.

Q: What do you mean fiction is about human nature?
M: I’m glad you asked. I think there’s a profound conservatism to all great fiction. If I had to define the essence of leftism in a single phrase, it’d be “the perfectibility of man.” This is the idea that stretches back past Rousseau and probably the Gnostics to Plato’s Republic. Before public policy or any ideological agenda, conservatism recognizes the bedrock fact that man is flawed. He can be good, but only by being civilized. That’s why science fiction is so conservative. It can be set in some far-flung galaxy or some technological wonderland. But what makes it accessible to us is that humans — or even aliens — are still driven by timeless motivations. Human nature is the rock in the river of time. Acknowledging the fact that human nature has no history is the first principle of realism, and realism is conservative. The facts of life, Margaret Thatcher said, are conservative. And I think that’s what she meant. The American Revolution was incredibly radical, but it was conservative in the sense that the Founders — unlike the Jacobins or the Bolsheviks — took human nature into account.

Q: Um, okay. So why do you live in D.C. if you don’t like it that much?
M: It’s where my work is and it’s where I laid down roots.

Q: Do you think New York is a better city?
M: Yes and no. I think New York is a more real city, even though it’s become much less interesting in the last decade or so. But I also think New York vs. D.C. debates are dumb. As I always say, it’s like the great Cornell-Harvard rivalry that everyone at Cornell knows about and no one at Harvard has heard of.

Q: Okay, speed round. What’s your favorite movie?
M: I dunno. It changes with my mood. But I think The Godfather is always watchable.

Q: What’s your favorite novel?
M: For, years, I might have said either Dune or The Joke by Milan Kundera. But I haven’t revisited either for years.

Q: What about non-fiction?
M: Hmm. That’s even tougher. Maybe Prejudices by Robert Nisbet. It was sort of the inspiration for The Tyranny of Clichés. In retrospect, I wish I had used that title, given how bad the one we used was.

Q: Yeah, that really was awful. Great, underappreciated book. Terrible title. Anyway, what’s your favorite TV show?
M: Currently? Probably Game of Thrones. I don’t care if that’s too conventional. I think the new fad of hating on Game of Thrones is just hip contrarianism.

Q: How about ever?
M: I guess Breaking Bad — though, when I’m watching The Wire or The Sopranos, my opinion sometimes changes. But I like a lot of TV. I think the first season of 30 Rock was brilliant.

Q: Why did you phone-in this G-File?
M: Because Lowry said I have to file no matter what or he won’t give me my weekly antidote to the poison he gave me. Also, I’m kind of burnt out. I just sent the revised manuscript of my book to the editor and I feel like a balloon that flew around the room for six months and now lies spent on the floor. That’s why I didn’t file a syndicated column yesterday.

Q: Will this ever end?
M: That’s what the intern said.

Various & Sundry

ICYMI . . . 

My lingering questions about Game of Thrones.

The latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast.

The rising tide of vulgarity.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday links

CIA spy camera revealed . . . 50 years later, in the Maine woods

The Gulag Archipelago, mapped

The mad cheese scientists fighting to save the dairy industry

Would you drink a preserved toe cocktail?

Every “That’s what she said!” in The Office

A Marine’s loving sendoff for the cancer-stricken dog who saved his life

Pitbull gives birth, puts all of her puppies in her owner’s lap

Movies famous directors never made

Strippers, insane asylums, assassinations, and termites — the story of Huey Long’s replica White House

What would have happened if the South did win the Civil War?

A new explanation for ball lightning?

What makes John Bonham such a good drummer?

Greece’s disappearing whistled language

Eye imagery in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Gene Simmons calf born in Texas

The ghostly radio station that no one claims to run

The most painful things a human can endure

The kid who didn’t die at Riverfront Stadium

Why onions make you cry

Hero or villain? How one spider floated thousands of miles and colonized a new continent

The crow who taught herself how to fly

The G-File

By Jonah Goldberg