Dear Reader (Including Ben Shapiro, who is apparently a race-traitor now. Funny, he does look Jewish),
The multiverse is so hot right now.
I am referring to the literary concept—“literary” being a very generous term—and not the scientific (also possibly too generous a term) “many worlds” thesis.
The multiverse has taken over what is ironically called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel didn’t invent the idea; DC Comics beat them to it (and a lot of other stuff). And science fiction has geeked out on the idea of parallel universes since the 1880s. It was a staple of the original Star Trek—remember goatee Spock?—and every franchise since. The Paramount series Picard is entirely based on it (and it’s really not very good).
My multiverse problem—and ours.
I’m going to get to politics, but first I want to offer a complaint about the moral metaphysics of the multiverse. Let’s stick with the Star Trek version of it. There’s another universe that looks pretty much exactly like ours technologically. But in this universe, the humans are evil, bloodthirsty, warmongering versions of the ones we’re familiar with. Unsurprisingly, the culture they live in corresponds to their evilness.
Here’s the problem. As lifestyle choices go, being evil is a pretty significant one. Being willing to murder people has consequences—and not just for the murdered people. And yet, none of these choices seem to matter very much in all sorts of important respects.
Think of it this way. Assume that Captain Kirk’s grandfather was evil. He met a nice evil girl and got married. They raised an evil son, who in turn raised an evil James T. Kirk. Assume there was much killing and conquering done by three generations of Kirks. And yet somehow, both Kirk’s father and grandfather married the same women as in our universe and had kids at the same time—to the day. Evil Kirk’s parents still named their son James Tiberius Kirk, not Tiberius James Kirk, never mind Grondu Destroyer of Worlds. Whatever raping and pillaging dad and grandad did didn’t have any effect on who they married or their decision to have kids (I’m assuming that in the 23rd century, most pregnancies are planned). Not only did this happen for James Kirk, but for everybody, McCoy, Spock, Uhuru—the whole gang. And all of the decisions they made—based upon entirely different motives and incentives inherent to a very different sort of society—didn’t seem to prevent, say, Lt. Sulu from being assigned to evil Kirk’s crew. Shouldn’t some of them just never have been born?
Imagine a parallel universe in which everyone has been vegan for the last five centuries. Wouldn’t that lead to all sorts of different outcomes? The temporal butterfly effects of that alone would be incalculable. Abraham Lincoln waited too long for a tempeh burger and missed a stagecoach to his debate with Stephen Douglas. Henry VIII didn’t get gout. We didn’t wipe out the buffalo. But in an interplanetary society where merit is based on who, and how many, people you kill and what planets you conquer, such behavior has no discernible effect on dating habits, family planning, and career trajectories? That seems, I dunno, unlikely.
In short, what I mean by the moral metaphysics of the multiverse is that it erases big swaths of free will and the moral consequences of choices.
And in this universe, choices have consequences—or at least they’re supposed to. Consider Vladimir Putin. It’s very easy to imagine a different Russian autocrat deciding not to invade Ukraine. He could still be evil. He could still be a tyrant. But because he didn’t trust his advisers, or because he had a better grasp of the reality on the ground in Ukraine, or because he ate some bad clams, he opted not to murder untold thousands of Ukrainians when he did. That decision would yield an entirely different timeline. I know the “great man” theory of history has its detractors and flaws, but the core idea is clearly right. Decisions matter. And people in the position to make consequential decisions have a huge effect on consequences.
In 1931, Winston Churchill was in the U.S. on a lecture tour to make up for some of his losses in the stock market crash. While crossing Fifth Avenue, he looked the wrong way (because Brits drive on the wrong side of the road) and was hit by a car. He was nearly killed. I don’t know what the world would like today if he had been killed, but my hunch is it would look pretty different. Heck, my hunch is history would have unfolded differently if he hadn’t been hit by a car.
The multiverse, much like dream sequences, appeals to writers and actors because it gives them license to indulge themselves—to break out of their narrative ruts, as it were. Sticking to the logic and established facts of a single timeline requires discipline, because, as in life, one decision by the writer—or the writer’s character—creates obligations, limits options, creates some paths, and forecloses others. For instance, all things being equal, it’s fair to say that if you choose to get a Ph.D. in physics, you are significantly narrowing your chances of becoming a professional baseball player. The multiverse lets you break the chains of such constraints. So while it’s entertaining, it’s also kind of a cop-out.
The new McCarthyite era.
Okay, I’ll turn down the pure nerdery dial.
While the multiverse has long been a pet peeve of mine, what got me thinking about it was, oddly enough, the news about Kevin McCarthy.
Don’t worry, I’ll get there.
Since the rise of Donald Trump, I’ve made lots of jokes about the “writers of this timeline” and parallel universes where, say, Mitch Daniels is president, quietly running the government competently while eating soup at his desk. I’m hardly alone. When the Trump era seemed like a rich cocktail of a Mexican soap opera, a Japanese game show, Veep, and The Apprentice, lots of people would talk about how the “writers are getting exhausted.” I mean, remember when the postal cops arrested Steve Bannon on a Chinese billionaire’s yacht? A lot of us responded like the blind guy when handed a piece of matzoh, “Who writes this stuff?”
Trump is gone, but that feeling is still here. There’s still a lot of dark comedy if you have eyes to see it. I mean, the president of the United States recently finished a speech and tried to shake hands with someone who wasn’t there (maybe we’ll find out it was an invisible rabbit named Harvey). Now PolitiFact says it didn’t happen, which means very little to me. But if you watch the video, it sure seems like it did. Heck, even if it didn’t, who honestly doesn’t think it’s plausible? There’s a dark comedy to that, too. The Ukrainians sank the flagship of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea, and the Russians say both that it sank on its own and that they will retaliate against Ukraine for it. Dark, but kinda funny. America’s chest-thumping nationalists have discovered that nationalism is great, except for Ukraine. The vice president of the United States, meanwhile, really does seem to be channeling Selina Meyer of Veep. Just the other day she explained space to the Space Force like they were visiting third graders.
Everything’s a one-off.
The difference now is that everything feels more episodic, as if the showrunners who police continuity started day-drinking and don’t much care about wrapping up or maintaining storylines. (Many of you kids may not appreciate this, but prior to Hill Street Blues and, really, NYPD Blue, most TV shows were one-offs. Sure, there’d be cliffhangers, usually at the end of a season, but for the most part each episode of The Rockford Files or Tenspeed and Brownshoe or, yes, Star Trek was a self-contained stand-alone. Today, at least in drama, stories spread over whole seasons. Or, as with Breaking Bad, multiple seasons.)
It’s like every day we get caught up in the missing Russian in the Pine Barrens and within a day or two people don’t even ask, “Whatever happened to that guy?”
For instance, remember when Tucker Carlson insisted that the NSA was spying on him in an effort to cancel his show? It was a big deal for a hot minute. Interestingly, Fox News didn’t treat it like a real story, but Kevin McCarthy did. McCarthy assigned then-Rep. Devin Nunes to be his Inspector Javert to get to the bottom of this “troubling” allegation. I searched LexisNexis, and it seems no one has covered this story since the end of last year. When Devin Nunes left Congress to strap lead weights to Truth Social’s corpse, no one even asked Kevin McCarthy, as far as I can tell, what would happen to the investigation. I get why the New York Times hasn’t covered it. But why hasn’t Tucker or the various outlets that hype his schtick stayed on the story? Because you gotta move on to testicle tanning or January 6 being a false flag operation.
Now, this episodic quality to the news is hardly new. There were plenty of Very Special Episodes that went nowhere during the Trump years. If everybody who reported that Brett Kavanaugh was a rapist or repeated Michael Avenatti’s slanders (remember that character? He was like the Poochie of anti-Trumpism) actually believed that stuff, you’d think someone would have stuck with the story even after Kavanaugh was confirmed. Or remember net neutrality? I’m not entirely exaggerating when I say people claimed that without it, the internet would be over, democracy would be imperiled, cats would sleep with dogs, and Netflix would cost you $1 billion a month.
And then, nothing.
Partisanship obviously has a lot to do with it. When Obama separated immigrant kids from their parents, it wasn’t that big a deal for the media. When Trump did it, it was the end of the world (though for Trump, child separation was a feature not a bug). Well, now we’re separating kids again and the right can bring this up to only complain about liberal hypocrisy, which is why the left doesn’t want to make a big deal about it.
But there’s something else at work. The weird thing is that the internet was supposed to actually make your permanent record, well, permanent. Be careful what you say, because the internet is forever and all that. But the reality has been close to the opposite, at least for politics. In an era where we’re overwhelmed with information, but starved for knowledge, never mind wisdom, every day is a new show. Say or do what you need to say or do today, and if you need to do the opposite tomorrow, that’s fine. Each episode is a stand-alone.
At least prior to January 6, politics during the Trump presidency was mostly kayfabe. Politics today is more like Dallas where good guys can become bad guys and vice versa depending on what the guys in the writer’s room need at any given moment. (Not to toot my own horn—you can go blind!—but because I have a Remnanty contempt for both sides, I’m called a hateful partisan hack pretty much every day. The only variation is whether Democrats or Republicans are saying it.) Republicans are for democracy when democracy means one thing, Democrats are for it when it means the other thing. Free speech is great when it’s for me, dangerous when it’s for thee. Cancel culture is bad and anyone who disagrees—or agrees!—needs to be canceled. Using the government to bully corporations is bad when they do it, while justice demands it when we do it. It’s like one week Klingons are a warrior race and the next week they are dedicated to the eternal principles of logic. There’s just no story discipline.
Which brings me back to Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy—the same guy who said the biggest accomplishment of the Benghazi hearings was the damage they did to Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers—is perfectly suited to this new environment. He lives in the eternal now, stringing words together like paper dolls, and is perfectly happy to put a match to them the next day, or the next moment. His current scandal is that he was revealed to have said the right thing in private to members of his conference—and then lied when he denied he did the right thing. But when I say the “right thing,” I mean it as an objective matter. In the wake of the January 6 riot, he told fellow Republicans that Trump deserved ample blame and should resign for it—and that he would tell Trump as much. But for McCarthy it was merely the “right thing” to say in that moment to those people. It seems he never said it to Trump. Apparently, when he talked to him, the right thing for him to say was the objectively wrong thing. It’s like he’s all the Kevin McCarthys in the multiverse at once.
This kind of thing leaves me feeling like Kathy Bates in Misery. If you recall, James Caan plays an author who killed off his character “Misery,” and Bates, a Misery superfan, takes him hostage and forces him to bring her back. Caan complies, but he doesn’t put his heart into it and writes an implausible comeback. Bates reads the manuscript and is pissed. She explains that when she was a little girl she loved watching serials (basically the movie version of episodic TV shows). Her favorite was called Rocket Man, and in one episode, “Rocket Man” was stuck in a car and couldn’t get out before the car went over the cliff and crashed and burned. “I was so upset and excited,” Bates recounts, “and the next week you better believe I was first in line and they always start with the end of the last week and there was Rocket Man trying to get out, and here came the cliff and JUST BEFORE the car went off he jumped free and all the kids cheered.”
She then gets really agitated, standing up in a fury. “But I didn’t cheer, I stood right up and started shouting, ‘This isn’t what happened last week—have you all got amnesia? THEY JUST CHEATED US! THIS WASN’T FAIR! He didn’t get out of the cockadoodie car!’”
In this timeline, the cockadoodie car isn’t going over a cliff, it’s full of clowns who see no problem with taking off their noses to pretend to be very serious when the moment requires it. And there’s no end of clowns in this cockadoodie car.
Various & Sundry
Canine update: I’m alone this week with the beasts and we’re having a grand time, though Zoë has been a handful. She aroos at me a lot whenever I don’t follow protocol (Warning: I am reliably informed that if you play that audio it will make your dogs bark or growl.) The other day I took her to the woods and she encountered an enormous herd of deer, like maybe a dozen of them. She chased them to and fro for quite a while. She also recently found a desiccated squirrel pelt (great name for a band), and when I tried to get her to drop it, she looked at me like I was asking Donald Trump to actually spend the money he raises for Republicans on Republicans. “Are you nuts? It’s mine.” As is her wont, she quickly chewed it up like an old couch in an industrial compactor and swallowed it. Contrary to my expectations, no gastrointestinal horror show ensued. Gracie, meanwhile, is getting a bit fed up with the canines, but she’s otherwise prospering as well.
And now, the weird stuff