Select Page

One of the few podcasts I subscribe to (other than TV, eh? of course) is This American Life. Hosted by Ira Glass, the show features a variety of stories on a single theme. A few weeks ago the theme was A Little Bit of Knowledge and the prelude introduced a brilliant two-word description for the phenomenon we all demonstrate on occasion, of spouting off on something we barely grasp but read something about some time ago that we half-remember. The concept comes from the friends of a TAL producer, who came up with an imaginary magazine dedicated to such blathering: Modern Jackass.

That edition of This American Life included a strangely poignant segment about an electrician who thought he’d stumbled onto a theory that disproved Einstein and Newton. He took a year’s sabbatical to write his paper on the topic. An actual physicist took a few minutes to realize that he was reading an excerpt from Modern Jackass, but the electrician remains unconvinced.

I ran into an example of someone ripped from the pages of Modern Jackass the other day at lunch, at a Subway. A group of men were eating while one went on and on – not in his inside voice, of course – about how humans are only meant to live to be 60. Anything past that is a bonus, so we should all just shut up and thank our lucky stars if we make it past that ripe old age. After a few feeble attempts to figure out what the hell the man was on about, his three coworkers just listened to him as he talked and talked and talked about ancient people’s lifespans, with vague references to bones and biblical age fudging.

He seemed completely oblivious to any counterargument of better hygiene, nutrition, and medical care, not to mention the conundrum of how to define what it means to say we’re “meant to” live to be a certain age, especially given the average life expectancy is almost 20 years above his demarcation, and at least some ancient people’s lifespans were considerably shorter than 60. But then again, that’s me joining the pages of Modern Jackass, because I’ve done absolutely no research for this post and am relying on vague memories of anthropology classes and whatever random articles I’ve read over the years.

Were his coworkers buying his argument? Hard to say, since they were pounded into silence by the man’s incessantly booming voice, but I’m betting no. I’m betting they were in the “maybe if we say nothing he’ll run out of steam sooner” phase of dealing with the obnoxious arguer.

Don’t those two words elegantly describe a phenomenon that’s so pervasive in real-life and Internet discussions (including, if we’re brutally honest, our own side of those discussions)? Modern Jackass: Subscribe today.