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Talking Van Life And The Conspiracy Theory Singularity With Anna Merlan

A wild horse's skull sitting on federal land. It's a whole thing, don't worry about it.
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

The United States of America. What are you going to do about it? It’s big and empty and somehow also crowded, it’s scared and angry all the time, it gets up every day and un-teaches itself to read, it is ungovernable and impossible and almost all of my favorite people and places and things are located here. It is a weird place to know, and the writer Anna Merlan knows the weirdest parts of it—the ad hoc communities built around conspiracies and denial and bottomless loneliness—better than just about anyone else alive. Merlan is also currently traversing this incredible, impossible country on a two-month road trip in a 2000 Chrysler Town & Country, which meant that we had plenty of things to talk about when she joined us, on some wobbly upstate internet and from inside that very minivan, on this week’s episode.

During the half-hour that Anna spent with us, we covered kind of a lot, from the emerging Conspiracy Singularity to the current state of mask-related tetchiness to the startling poor poop-management practices of people camping on Bureau of Land Management properties. I did my best not to make the entire conversation about conspiracy stuff, and would describe my success in that endeavor as “moderate.” It was a rare opportunity to talk to someone as familiar as I am with the state of our national manias, about those very manias, but also it’s a tough thing to talk about and one of the iron rules of podcasting as I understand it is to not ask too many questions in the form of “point out thing you noticed that makes you upset before trailing off into a wrung-out sigh.” So we tried to ask just enough of those.

Because Anna does not care about sports and promised to make fun of us the entire time we talked about it, Drew and I let her go about her business before turning to other topics. One of those was the World Series, which I have somehow managed to talk myself into after spending the entire baseball season in energy-saver mode. The Funbag challenged us with a mysterious and rare type of flatulence. Armond White’s assessment of Zack Snyder as a hysterical liberal crybaby was…I guess we discussed it, mostly I just laughed a lot and said “what.” Drew rapped, but only very briefly.

And so the ungovernable and unreasonable spirit of America lives on. You can see it in the heartland, tearing itself apart. You can read about it in Anna’s book Republic Of Lies, which really is very good and which Drew and I both recommend highly. And you can hear it in this podcast, where two adult men talk about different kinds of farts.

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