I am almost sixty now, and I have been obsessed with history ever since I was a kid. There has always been a lot of lying going on – especially from liars who are already very powerful, who want us to be afraid enough that we eagerly offer them authority over us which they do not deserve and cannot be trusted with, along with hard earned money from our pockets which they deserve even less.
But I have to say, this really is a time of lying taken to extremes. As a result, the reliable middle ground, where the most sensible, practical and cheerfully skeptical people used to be able to meet to make useful compromises, from which could flow stable policy with broad benefit (and thus, enduring public support) – is now almost extinct.
In my recent essays and podcasts I’ve been working on the outlines of my next book – a departure from my previous works – which were all about gratitude, learning, love and prat-fall wisdom (the hard-way lessons which really do stick). This new work is still aimed at promoting more understanding, and ultimately happiness also – but some hard things have to be said, urgently – and I am convinced that our standard models of happiness-seeking (broadly: escapism, sanctimonious tribalism and self-medication) are just not working, and actually haven’t been for quite awhile (when a quarter of the population is on psych meds, and another third at least self-medicating, something is seriously wrong which needs more than just meds to fix).
There really are some genuine lines of serious contention in the modern world, but the popular models of division we are offered are not just wildly impractical, but outright fraudulent, which means that my serious love for my readers comes with a duty to be fierce and truthful on your behalf.
For today, the particular real split I want to discuss is a difference of general approach to (and understanding of) the whole world.
Like all of the strange divisions I’ve been looking at recently, this really is not a split between those who are “with us” and those who are bad. The fact that many people who are given a lot of airtime now insist that our struggles involve exclusive truth or even basic humane morality on one side only, is not simply a fraud against their listeners, but also a disgusting betrayal of the basic understanding which allows us to form societies in the first place.
That is – it is not just foolish – it is dangerously ignorant, and blindly and often willfully destructive! Belongs in the general category of killing the baby outright, so as to be more eco-friendly about bathwater consumption (and being proud of it).
Just as I know and love people who are serious atheists and serious believers, and people who are serious conservatives and serious leftists, I also love people on both sides of this divide of approach and understanding. But here even more than with those other splits, I find myself frustrated by how many refuse to learn the lessons they need for their very own personal balance, because the clues and learning seem to them to be tainted by a whiff of what they falsely perceive to be opposition, (instead of simple and understandable experience-borne difference).
We do so much of this ‘cooties thinking’ now. “That can’t be true because I heard an icky person might also have said it.” Except of course, thinking is exactly the wrong word for any kind of conclusions which proceed from such passionately held ignorance.
Now – here is the split – as clearly as I can present it. One approach is to feel strongly, study a lot of ideas and seek to make these ideas work in the world by feeling strongly. That is – boosting those who claim to represent the feelings – and punishing those who disagree, so as to assert what is felt to be a superior (because Ideals-based) morality.
The other approach is to work diligently, learn from those who have done difficult things already (which requires that we are able to show respect for them), and then take into account every real factor which has been proven important to outcomes – and then keep working, keep sharing expertise with those who have accomplished, and keep checking for new clues to how well the plans are working, and whether there are any new variables which we should have been paying more attention to.
Because I read too much, I sometimes jokingly refer to this split as the Eloi and the Morlocks, but I have to explain the reference for my younger friends. In his book “The Time Machine” HG Wells, who amongst other things was a socialist and feminist already in the late eighteen hundreds, described a world of the future where the haves and have nots had achieved complete separation.
The Eloi (haves) lived a life of fun and pleasure in a huge lovely garden, amusing themselves with games and culture all day long without a care for the practical.
The Morlocks (have nots) lived underground in vast caverns filled with machinery, knew nothing but toil their whole lives, and every now and then, when pressure got too high, they would come to the surface to carry off one of the Eloi – to eat them.
Now – to be clear – I have lots to say about wealth splits elsewhere – and today the point I’m after is really about understanding. People who spend their lives with tools in their hands, solving real problems for people all day long, learn some things about the world which vast numbers of other people never have to learn – because they can always call a Morlock, to do it for them. Go ask a plumber how many people show them serious respect before they actually need (and I mean NEED) them.
I have a foot in both of these worlds, I seem to be wired up ‘creatively’ (based upon my proven inability to cease creating), but I trained hard to become and enjoyed being an expert technician, which is not only a hard science discipline, but also one in which you either achieve a more or less perfect result (that is, a once again functional unit) or else you have failed completely.
Even for a smooth talker like me (some of my invoices were legendary) no one ever cares if you spent six hours perfectly restringing the tuning dial on their old stereo and only charged them half an hour for it, if it still gives off a big cloud of noxious smoke and blows a house fuse, when you power it up!
That kind of zero bullshit environment was incredibly helpful for me, and has also done my romantic art head a lot of good over the years. It is unbelievably easy to dream up a project which would require a hundred lifetimes to execute. Much harder to assemble all the ingredients and effort to get a finite but ambitious project DONE – and then do another, even more ambitious.
Now here’s a funny thing I’ve noticed about how this split plays out in the world. There are places where one or the other basic approach dominates – there are a lot more Morlocks than Eloi on construction sites, and education is almost exclusively staffed by Eloi now (one of the reasons their tribalism is so infuriating, because it really is disrespectful to other valid visions).
But one of the few places where we often see a transition between these modes is in business. You might think all businesses require practical hard nosed Morlock thinking above all else, but the idea of starting a new business is itself an act of daring creative imagination (apologies to the romantics, but credit where it is due). I have known and worked for several small businesses which were started by idealistic dreamers, who also had a decent streak of the practical in their back pocket.
Being able to see that people really want something, and no one is offering it to them, can be powerful for the customers who suddenly find themselves well-served in a way they never have been before. A kind of recognition, made practical in the world.
So some of these dreamer-started businesses do very well and grow fast in their early years, because more and more people are happy to find that somewhere out there, is a shop or specialist trade which ‘gets’ them. We call this ‘organic’ growth (and it is the side of capitalism which does respond to communities better than any other system so far – at the very far end from the monopolism and extortion we more commonly mean to indicate nowadays, when we use the word capitalism pejoratively).
Thing is, growth begets change (always) and at a certain point, the startup dreamer either recruits a serious Morlock, or the business grows out of responsible control (like say, cancer) and then inevitably dies. Not because the dream stopped being useful, but because systems become more and more complex as they grow, and the practical realities and necessities of these complex systems cannot EVER be dreamed away.
Which brings me at last to my title – which comes from the weirdly early moment in my life when I first recognized, and was at once deeply troubled by, this hard split in our ways of thinking about the biggest questions and concerns there are.
As I’ve mentioned before, my education was way beyond what is nowadays meant by experimental, and in many ways crazy. However, in any radical program, there is always the possibility to uncover useful lessons our more conventional approaches do not ever examine, let alone confirm or refute by testing.
Early on in the experiment, when there was still a serious educator involved (to help stabilize the unsound megalomaniac) the school was moved for a time to the commune owned farm. We would be bussed up at the start of the week, sleep in dorms, and return home on the weekends – which meant that a few dozen downtown city kids got some serious (and to me at least, life-changing) exposure to nature.
The most memorable thing about dorm living was that one of the dads would read to us boys every night (just as one of the moms would be reading to the girls in the next dorm). We had Lord of the Rings read to us by John, a dear man with a classic Irish tenor voice, and all other presentations of this work have paled for me ever since (he even sang Tom Bombadil’s rhymes).
The most memorable person-lessons from that phase of the experiment were theatrical (always improv) – the biggest barn had a proper stage setup for the many seminars and events the commune held. I was a genuine ham as a tyke – and when I wasn’t onstage myself, I could always be found side-stage, working an ever expanding range of acoustic sound effects, to add zip to the day’s show (how I first got to know Long and McQuade music store, where I would work for a decade, many decades later).
The most memorable lessons of all though, were taught to me by a small bird who lived in a tree which stood about halfway along the pathway from the old school house, to the renovated (think Frank Lloyd Wright in Barn-board) barns, stables and milking sheds, which were now dorms, seminar rooms and smaller temporary residences for visitors and commune higher ups.
Every day when I passed this bird’s tree, he would whistle at me, and as I had just learned to whistle (and was pleased about this, because my previous inability had been terribly embarrassing and frustrating) I tried my best to learn each new melody, and whistle it back to him. He was patient with me, and would repeat his call several times, waiting for me to answer, to make sure I had it right – but it was always a different call the next day. I felt sure he was slowly trying to teach me an entire vocabulary.
At one end of that path, in the old schoolhouse (where most of the coolest Montessori and geography gear was stored) I had an argument which has never stopped bothering me. Like my early inability to whistle, my inability to explain my way past it, drove me crazy then, and still frustrates me today (where oh where, is my patient instructional bird for this?)
I should actually say debate, really – we had a mini craze for them for awhile. You remember how it works? You choose a point, and then you poll the audience to see who agrees with it and who disagrees, and then two people try to make their best case for either side of the argument, and then you poll the audience again. It isn’t about majorities, but how many minds are changed.
As a general smart-ass, I always liked to try to devise the most difficult problem which I could still just barely solve. And so it was that I came up with an intentionally challenging formulation. Resolved: if it should become absolutely necessary for the survival of the human species, to kill all of the dolphins, then we should do that.
For my Eloi friends who are instantly angered – please remember what I just said about spontaneously developing a deep respectful relationship with a songbird. I love animals, always have. The point was never that we ought to kill dolphins, but only to say that we ought not to kill all the humans, and if we are faced with a stark choice, we should stand up for all the people of the world – all the men women and children, all the wealthy and cultured, all the challenged strugglers, all the sad cases who need more help. The opposite point SOUNDS compassionate, but endorses complete human extinction. Omnicide.
My point was to really frame the argument in a way which would force us to talk about comparative moral infinities (of which there are quite a few, most of which we have been trained to sneeringly dismiss as settled, along ignorant and tribalist lines).
Thing is, no matter how many times I tried to say “You’re choosing genocide, the death of every single man woman and child, your parents, your brothers and sisters, all the great artists, all the poor people overseas, all the people who have never been born…” none of the kids I was trying to convince, would even try to get their heads past my opening sin of moral cooties. “Kill the Dolphins? – That’s just so eew!” (And once again, to be super clear, I agree it absolutely is, unless it is so horribly conditional as in my of course only rhetorical formulation).
Which left me wondering – what if society gets to a place where the majority feels an Eloi “eew” even though plan B is genocide?
It is honestly impossible for me to convey just how much I hate it when I’m on to something. A real life test case finally hit my in-box the other day (and it is actually so perfectly and precisely absurd it would be hilarious, if only it wasn’t so desperately tragic).
For days now I’ve been listening to critiques about European politics, especially disgust at how the German Green party, which originally came out of the anti nuclear movement, had been transformed into a party of outright warmongers. Disgusting stuff. That great movie line comes to mind “You had ONE job!” (practical ecological advance with ZERO tribalism).
So now what am I supposed to say about Greenpeacers championing a plan to drive the right whales to extinction? Where can I go to scream at an appropriate volume, without being detected by googlebots and then chased down by ‘helpful’ mental health apps with discount Fountain-ill and Oxy on offer?
Yeah no – trust me, I wish I was joking, or exaggerating, but this is where we really are actually AT folks (Murphy help us).
What I was saying about Eloi and using tools? Energy is one of those things which stopped being dreamer and small business scale more than a century ago (the scale of argument on this ground is such that many cemeteries have been filled, ‘debating’).
Windmills sounded nice, but are in fact way less durable, reliable and useful than we first hoped, they hurt way more wildlife also, and are way more capital and materials intensive than their unreliable returns justify. Germany built its wind fleet very aggressively, and are now building freakin’ COAL plants at warp speed, they care so damn much about the environment. They have even decommissioned reliable Nuclear assets with decades of life left in them – again, because the Greens have more or less lost their now-Eloi-only minds. Feeling superior is the only point – being practical enough to improve the world? Screw that!
Canada has its own similar silliness, politically and economically. It took a decade of steady political effort, but my home province of Ontario completely did away with coal power generation years ago – a huge material gain for our citizens. The air in Toronto (biggest city in Canada) used to be unbreathable for weeks in a row in the worst heat of every summer, and now we get a pollution day at a time, and those, only occasionally – this program has saved countless lives and improved quality of life for many more than that – about the best you could say about any government action.
But the way it was done – by Eloi thinkers with the help of Banker viziers (and yet still widely regarded as leftist, to this day) – was a real disaster for the Morlocks who actually carry tools, and operate value added manufacturing businesses, employing many. (Our province is also home to the greatest concentration of productive industry).
The sleight of hand our local Eloi still pretend-away is that Ontario had been building toward a mostly nuclear future for decades, and still has a robust and reliable nuclear fleet, so even though our investments in wind-power proved poorly judged – driving many important businesses out of business, because electricity (that we didn’t need and couldn’t sell) became too expensive for them to compete in what are now always global markets – we won’t have to go back to building coal, just to keep the lights on.
What we lost in the deal is also extremely hard to calculate. The government which did it was such a financial disaster that they destroyed trust in leftist governments as a whole, in a deep way. Never honest about the books, they added vast debt to burden us far into the future. But the lost positive has also been obscured. Back in the eighties, when I was a courier who delivered to spiffy Ontario Hydro headquarters regularly, they proudly boasted that they were the most valuable publicly held asset anywhere in the entire world!
China has built out a ton of hydro-electric and other capacity since, so that title has long been lost to us anyhow. The point is that the millions of citizens in Ontario used to be the owners of something worth dozens of Billions. Now we have programs to subsidize outrageous power rates by taking on ever more government debt, and still we have been forced as individuals to retire the debt of that titanic asset, without any of us ever having seen the flood of wealth we should all have realized, from the rendering of this prize sow. Like I say, these idiots chose Bankers as “helpers” – and what a coincidence, we wind up buried in debt! And still the Eloi here see a pure and heroic leftie only. (I typed puer the first time, and maybe should have left it).
The latest ‘great’ feel good stupidity plan is to build a massive offshore wind farm in the primary breeding ground of the right whales, already dangerously endangered (down to just a few hundred, which is already constraining genetic variation dangerously). Not only does this mean years of heavy ship traffic and violently noisy construction (they actually want to build a hotel over that same water, because the construction crews will be so huge) the windmills in operation produce the same sorts of low frequency disruption to whalespeak for which Greenpeace used to angrily and relentlessly attack the US Navy!
I am a poor fool, to be sure (which really does boost one’s monastic abilities, in an un-earned way), but I don’t drive or fly, I don’t eat a ton of meat or keep a pet that needs it. I go on tiptoes (and with a giggle). Not so that I can look down on anyone else, but just because I hate the way it feels when you step on something innocent, because you didn’t even bother to notice.
I really do not want us to kill off all of the right whales so we can feel false virtue, and we shouldn’t destroy for feelings anyhow.
Three decades ago now, back when we first said “reduce, re-use, recycle” we were trying to make things better and more sustainable, but because we never thought about it like Morlocks, the rich nations of the world have mostly created a new premium marketing brand, and a whole new kind of first-world sanctimony. The fact is, we have actually been dumping a huge proportion of our plastic waste on the poor overseas, and praising ourselves for superior morality the whole time.
WRONG. Cleaning up our own mess would be morality, what we do instead is contemptuous dishonest and unfair (and you can add racist and colonialist to that list, if it makes you feel better). We make our problems into the problems of people who haven’t got enough political power to say no to us, and we lie constantly, because we are convinced we have a right to feel great about ourselves, even when the known consequences of our actions bring absolutely certain harm to others. (This unconvincing but universal moral sleight-of-hand is an Eloi speciality – almost definitional – even Morlocks love their excuses – see: Hollywood).
A memorable classroom moment – I was discussing the eastern Congo with an instructor, and the millions who have died over wars funded directly by our consumer demand – not so that we could have cellphones at all, mind you – but so that we could have cellphones cheap enough to throw away. A student overheard and said, “I didn’t know anything about all of that.”
And I said, “That’s entirely understandable, but it’s also what the German citizens said about the Jews just after WW2, so we ought to be doing better by now, don’t you think?”
We could fairly call this violent bullying, we could call it exploitative, and we could even call it imperialist (old lefties will remember the phrase “The exportation of poverty”). Reasonable, moral or helpful to any human being on earth? Absolutely not. Not even to ourselves, because FAKE CONSOLATION DOES NOT WORK!
And still it continues – our Prime Minister (Eloi in chief) recently banned plastic bags, instead of changing something important, like mandating that all plastic sold in Canada be degradable by known and cost-practical chemical processes, and that all producers of such plastic invest proportionally in this ACTUAL recycling infrastructure. Then we could finally really recycle – for the first time ever – and finally see how that actually works as a plan, rather than a sleazy lying bullshit feel-good distraction. (quite a lot like praying, technically – but considerably less uplifting, and demonstrably less useful to the participants).
And yes of course, many other decadent jurisdictions are also wildly dishonest and rely upon taking sociopathic advantage of the overseas poor for the foreseeable future – but Canadians take way too many cheap shots outward, and anyhow, as a ratio of sin compared to sanctimony, no one can touch us Canucks! (Worst garbage per capita in the world – we’re number ONE!)
The word performative comes to mind – though my technician head insists “But it’s still broken!” is really the key point missed.
We’ve actually got so locked into the tribalist mindsets now, that according the dominant Eloi-speak, you are now officially suspected of being a “White Supremacist” if you don’t demand that we risk outright nuclear war in support of CIA sponsored ethnic cleansing militias which were banned as openly and proudly fascist (and incidentally LOVED training far-right ATOMWAFFEN members from the US in battlefield tactics), right up until the day the war started. None of the citizens involved deserved any part of this disaster, but we in the west opposed peace with all of our diplomatic and economic might – and we aren’t even interested in asking why.
So now I have to deal with former peacenik comrades shouting “Kill those sub-human reds!” Honestly. Where does one even start? CUI BONO? (who profits?) Check weapons contractors stock prices, if I’m still being overly subtle. And be very clear here before you accuse me of missing the point. The American policy establishment is already turning against support for Ukraine, and in favour of the exact same sort of treaty which would have prevented the war in the first place – minus a whole lot of incredibly valuable industrial Ukrainian territory – because destroying Ukraine to keep Russia from uniting with Europe and undermining American energy and economic hegemony was always the goal, and that work is now effectively done. (Saint Cy Hersch comes through again – with an unexpected late-game touchdown!)
And somehow all this madness is STILL seen as better than admitting the truth that everyone on the left already knew, twenty years ago – that the Clinton Democrats spent all of their energy betraying their loyal Morlock members for the sake of Wall Street and War Hawk corruption, trading away respect they once earned, for the exclusive magic bean adulation of the self-obsessed Eloi horde.
The Morlocks build it, fund it, fix it, and ALWAYS get stuck cleaning up every kind of mess there is – but increasingly, it is only the Eloi who can afford to live in it. Does that sound like a sustainable political and economic system to you? A moral one?
Mind you, if this willful blindness keeps going for long enough, I must admit that it is true – we really won’t need any plumbers anymore. We can finally all be united and Eloi-ish, squabble over shacks, shit in holes in the ground and live to twenty (if we’re lucky, and not too badly mutated).
And you know for sure that even then, millions of those smugnorant superior narcissists are still going to be whining, right?
Glowing in the dark and keening away, “Eww though!” atop the fading call of the wild boomer “No but me-me-me, no but me-me-me.”
Like I say, where is that freakin’ Byrd?*
*Senator Robert Byrd was a fascinating weird complex human who began as an arch conservative (KKK/Dem) and grew over his decades in government to realize the harm which conflict in particular brought to his nation and the whole world. I hated most of what he said for decades, but when he alone rose to oppose the Iraq war with extraordinary eloquence (and prescience) I wept with gratitude, and was also forced to recognize principle is quite distinct from tribe (a key truth which categorical thinking obliterates).
Cojones des bronces
Glenn Greenwald is perhaps the single most dogged and authentic journalist alive. His new Rumble show is almost ridiculously good. He does what journalism is supposed to – calls out all the bullshit, regardless of the team. He was also so widely (and unfairly) attacked, because of an FBI deception campaign (they actually knew for sure Hunter’s laptop was real, BEFORE they told big media it was Russian disinformation) that he has truly left tribalism completely behind him – and with more of his humour and energy intact, than any other public figure I know of.
In one week, he challenged the war hawk complicity of the supposedly socialist “squad”, then turned around to attack the Republican fervour for their own cancel culture, when it comes to any criticism of policy on Israel. Fearless and relentless.
But the recent show you MUST watch is his incredible interview with Sarah Wagenknecht – (show starts at 12:24) who remains a staunch leftist, but is now winning huge support from the disaffected right for her brains and her serious principles. May even be the next Chancellor (yes Virginia, there is still some hope for Europa becoming far more than just a gang of squabbling vassals).
He is one of very few who still bother trying to speak with fairness to everyone who is curious, instead of playing the sneering power-serving ignorance-flattery game now sold on most of the mainstream media (why public trust in mass media has completely imploded, very rapidly, very recently).
Disinformation is not our problem folks. Speech which challenges or offends us, is not what threatens us right now.
The way we are all so very proud of our own hatred and ignorance, is a heck of a lot closer to the right spot to dig. (If we really would actually like to find some treasure as we keep claiming, instead of just endlessly whining about what a contender we should have been, as we seem so far to greatly prefer)
Even the Squarest of the Square undermine the story. Here are K street policy wonks discussing.
And here is Jimmy Dore going on a manic rant against Rachel Maddow – another popular figure who is all-in on whatever the CIA FBI and Pentagon say, and yet still somehow regarded as left. (all-branding no-substance really is our bold new thing, ain’t it?)