Reason Podcast

'Killer' Walkman, 'Insane' Bicycles, and Novels Will Rot Your Brain: Pessimist Archive's Jason Feifer on 'Why We Resist New Things'

Jason Feifer's podcast explores "why we resist new things" and tells great stories about panics over the novel, the elevator, the waltz, margarine, and more.


Are you old enough to remember who Louise Brown is? In 1978, she became the first person born through in vitro fertilization, or IVF. She was called a test-tube baby and the technology that allowed her to exist scared the bejeezus out of everyone. Now it's a completely accepted way of making babies. 

Maybe you're old enough to remember when the Walkman was introduced in 1979 as the first truly portable, immersive, individualized sound system. Its success led to a spate of panicked stories about how it would destroy communal music and even to laws banning its use while walking.

Or maybe you're old enough to remember the panic over rock lyrics in the mid 1980s, when Sen. Al Gore (D–Tenn.) helped orchestrate hearings starring his then-wife Tipper, who railed against songs by Cyndi Lauper and other depraved musicians and warned that Dungeons & Dragons was a "deadly satanic game."

If you're interested in past panics about new technologies and forms of expressions, you'll be interested in the podcast Pessimists Archive, which is dedicated to exploring "why we resist new things." Host Jason Feifer delves into historical moments of panic over everything from novels to elevators to chain stores to that once unforgivably dirty dance, the waltz. He is also the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, host of a business-oriented podcast called Problem Solvers, and a novelist.

In today's Reason Podcast, he tells Nick Gillespie why new technologies and forms of culture reliably freak us out, how we can deal better with things, and what are some of the current threats that we should relax about.

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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  1. A podcast about another podcast? ugh

    1. I have a perfect strike out record on listening to an interesting podcast.
      Friends are always recommending Joe Rogan’s podcast but 3 hours?? These things need an editor like real radio shows.

  2. I know the short answer as to why people hijack government for their own personal panics: because that’s what government does. Its bureaucracies are the ultimate glory for bureaucrats everywhere because it has no accountability. Just grow your empire and ignore market accountability.

    Why would a professional moral panicker want to go anywhere else? Government is the place to panic because you can make everybody else panic with you.

    1. I mean, OK, but most of the discussion here has nothing to do with people hijacking government. They’re talking about a pre-political, psychological resistance people have toward change of any type. Sure it’s worse if people end up legally enforcing that resistance, but really the point is that the resistance impulse itself is wrongheaded and counterproductive.

      1. I understand and believe that the resistance impulse is wrong and counter-productive. But I also believe it’s natural instinct. Where government comes in is that it encourages people to follow through on base instincts like this. If there were no government bureaucracy to enforce such base instincts, people would just have ot learn to grin and bear it. They could rant to each other, they could form temperance unions to browbeat other people, but they would have to rely on moral persuasion of the masses rather than find a few bureaucrats looking for a way to grow their own little corner of coercive bureaucracy.

        *That* is where the evil of government comes in.

        1. That does happen. But the subjects mentioned here give some reason for optimism. Novels, portable music players and reproductive technology are all now less restricted and interfered with by government than they were when the panics happened.

        2. I agree with you, it’s just not really what the podcast was about.

  3. Progress toward what, Nick?
    You have to have a goal or direction, otherwise you can’t “progress” – so where do you want to head?
    We damn sure know it’s not toward liberty or freedom.

    1. Interesting – they’ve changed the title of the article, which was previously addressed to “those who believe in progress”

      1. I liked the original better.

        I don’t think it matters what progress is in this context. Whatever you consider to be progress, it’s probably wise to at least hear out the pessimists and others who question the value of change.

        1. Yeah. I’ve also come to loathe the abuse of the term ‘panic’. If you love progress and it can’t happen fast enough anybody reacting on virtually any time scale is panicking. Even if they’ve been systematically and unwaveringly opposed to the fundamental principles of the situation before it was a form of progress you even conceived of, they are now panicking. It’s becoming a thought-terminating trope like ‘phobia’.

  4. I like the Pessimist Archive podcast. It’s interesting and well-researched in terms of the history, entertaining, and only 1 episode/month.

  5. Well we have a deep seated instinct to reject new ideas. At least at first. Hey there caveman, put out the fire, now!! OK, I put out the fire. Um, how do I keep warm???

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