By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Nick Offerman
Narration by: Nick Offerman
Authors who speak about a future in the past often sound like fingernails on a black board; signifying nothing but noise. Nick Offerman is unquestionably a funny man. Offerman leavens the noise of historical luminaries with modern writers, artists, and musicians who carry some of what is best about America’s past. However, some Offerman’ opinions are fingernail-on-blackboard’ screeches. Offerman infers modern food is poison and craftsmanship is dying because “Corpocracy” has converted human need into human desire
Offerman suggests people like Teddy Roosevelt have gumption because they fight corporate consolidation and greed. Most rational Americans would probably agree. Modern corporations have undue influence in capitalist economies, but desire drives human nature in proportion to freedom. Teddy Roosevelt is no slouch in the human desire department considering his indiscriminate slaughter of wildlife to aggrandize his identity as a virile American. Offerman alludes to that truth but infers that corporations have magnified desire to the point of human extinction. His evidence is sketchy at best and Luddite driven at worst.
To suggest that houses today cannot survive the centuries is a Las Vegas myth. (Las Vegas implodes buildings because they want to generate excitement; not because older buildings are poorly built.) Modern houses are built better today than ever in history. Modern houses better serve the needs and desires of humanity than ever before. How many 300 year old houses have insulated windows, glass walls that open to the outdoors, central heat, or concrete foundations?
Offerman’s rant about the beauty of boat building, working with one’s hands, and tool design is a disingenuous paean to the wealthy. Who can spend a million dollars to retrofit a wooden boat that is a hole in the water through which money is poured? Those craftsmen who work with their hands are serving the wealthy and will continue to exist as long as demand remains. Freedom is freedom; both to Offerman that has the leisure, time, and fame to promote his book on John Stewart’s show, or to the boat builder that turns a lathe or bends a board for a wealthy client.
Offerman’s complaints about Genetically Modified Organisms fall into the category of vaccines that cause illness. It is undoubtedly true that GMOs and vaccines that are not produced with care can be harmful but GMOs hold the potential of feeding the world and vaccines have proven their value by eliminating diseases like polio. Offerman argues that McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are fattening our bodies and shortening our lives. Undoubtedly true, but everyone lives; everyone dies—what has changed? We are living longer now than ever before. Is the quality of life for Americans worse now than in 1861, 1929, 1941, or 2014–maybe for some but not most?
Offerman is quite right to question equal rights for minorities and women. The dismal truth is equality of opportunity remains un-achieved. This is an ageless battle that must continue to be fought, but to infer the present is not better than the past is disingenuous; i.e. a populist appeal without actionable substance.
Finally, Offerman’s frequent negative comments about the computer age obscure the value of widening the world of knowledge. Without the internet, movements like “Occupy Wall Street” and Global Warming are doomed. The internet, like invention of radio and television, is revolutionary. The internet changes the way people see and understand the world but it does not change human nature. The internet magnifies human nature in both good and bad ways. One can choose to believe “good” will prevail over “evil” or that the world is spiraling down to hell. Those who believe in a future think wider dissemination and utilization of knowledge will set humanity free. Others, like Luddites, or misanthropic minorities wish to destroy the machine and return humanity to the dark ages of an agrarian society.
Offerman’s book gleefully makes fun of modern times but his story suggests he is one lucky white guy who is making a good living in these “terrible times”. SCENES OF NICK OFFERMAN ON PARKS AND RECREATION SITCOM:
The future is not in the past. Though many are skeptical, optimists believe the future will be better than the present or past. Life is a journey; death is the destination. Think more like Bobby McFerrin than Thomas Malthus or Ned Ludd.