Is ‘woke’ really a thing and if so, where did it come from?

The woke awakening

Whenever I use the term ‘woke’ in the company of my significant other, it sparks a rather intense and sometimes unpleasant exchange. Her principle contention is that the term is in itself divisive; a poorly defined throw-away dysphemism from right-wing pundits too lazy to engage on substance. For her, the use of the term ‘woke’ is part of a wider problem of social meltdown. It is an example of the very stuff that is causing rational debate and discussion in the middle to be drowned out by angry shouts, hurled from the fringes.

I wish that were so. I wish we could just stop saying ‘woke’ and the problems it causes would simply melt away as the identitarians associated with that concept slide quietly towards the centre. I once believed this was the case. Back in 2016, it seemed to me that the garbage identity politics infecting mainstream liberalism was a fad – the power of liberal values would, over time, prevail. Those who clung to things like critical race theory or radical feminism would remain in the intellectual corner of the room where they belonged.

It took Covid for me to realise just how wrong I was. It took wasted hours of online battles with impassioned virus zealots to realise the fundamentals of our intellectual tradition had been eroded. So far eroded that, yes, they would lock us up in our houses, force our children out of school and into face masks, and all but force us to take an experimental vaccine-like treatment for a disease with a QALY-adjusted fatality rate that barely rose above the seasonal flu. In the end I came to understand that the reality of SARS-2 didn’t matter – all that mattered was the subjectively understood dangerosity of Covid.

Postmoderism was one hell of a crappy parent

Because what my wife still fails to appreciate is that woke is a real thing. The culture war is not simply an artefact of a social-media fuelled communications breakdown. Like most wars, there is something at stake – namely the basis on which truth in our society is properly understood. Transactivism, critical race theory, body positivity or Covid zealotry all share a common root: they depend on an ability to suspend objective truth in favour of ‘felt experience’.

Trans athlete competing in the Tokyo olympics. He/she ‘feels’ like a woman.

This is the essence of postmoderism – the intellectual root of woke. Postmoderism is a philosophy that arose in 1960s France. It held that only the subjective experience mattered. It saw objective truth as part of a system of oppression. As Adam Vicari succinctly puts it, woke is the bastard child of postmoderism. I think this is exactly right, and I won’t plagarise Adam or others by repeating the points they have already made in this regard.

But to truly understand how an intellectual idea held by some bored French kids could one day mutate into something as absurd as male weightlifters claiming Olympic medals because they ‘feel’ they are women, you have to reflect on how postmodernism arose and why.

You can’t split a log with feelings

This takes me to my wood pile. As I look out my window now, I can see a triple-row of firewood – cut, seasoned, carefully stacked and covered with a blue tarp, on which is currently resting a layer of slushy snow. Next to the wood, a wheel barrow, which I use to bring the wood to the door and transfer to the log basket next to the stove. The logs are then set alight, warming my house to a comfortable temperature.

As you can probably guess from how I wrote the above paragraph, I feel some measure of pride in providing locally sourced home heat for myself and my family. And while I’m not going to pretend that we absolutely depend on this wood to avoid hypothermia (we have a backup central heating system and electric heaters in case of need), there is something philosophical about burning your own wood, just like eating your own hen’s eggs or your own garden tomatoes. Frankly, it reminds you that there is a physical world, with physical properties. One which imposes absolute constraints on us, and which is utterly indifferent to our subjective feelings.

Postmoderism was born in the languishing coffee shops and bars of Paris, Europe’s most sophisticated city, at a time in history when an increasing number of young people had been freed by the surplus of capitalism from these constraints of nature. And what was true in 1960, is truer today. Most middle class people who inhabit urban areas in northern latitudes don’t think about where their heat comes from. They know little about the complex supply chains, pipes and precision fittings that keep them at a comfortable 21 degrees, even as the snow cascades from the milky heavens and onto their window panes – and they frankly find the subject rather boring. Ditto for the food they eat, the cotton threaded into the clothes they wear, etc. Prosperity creates a buffer between nature and the lived experience of the rich. And inside that comfort zone, you are free to live your own truth.

Me no throw spear at mammoth. Me identify as woman now.

This is why woke culture didn’t take off among our ancestors. If the men of a tribe of hunter-gatherers had taken it into their heads to ‘feel’ like women, and sit around the fire attaching the birthing people’s babies to their useless male nipples, the tribe would have quickly died. If a tribe allowed a foreign ethnic group to claim their hunting grounds on the basis that the foreigners represented a less toxic culture than their own, they too would have died. And if, in early winter, one member of the tribe decided to stuff her face from the stockpile of nuts, roots and smoked meat to the point of morbid obesity, and be ‘body positive’ about it, the winter food supply would be inadequate, again resulting in death. In such a world, starvation, predation and cold are objective truths you must accept, or you will perish.

It is also why, when in March Volodymyr Zelennsky barred all men from leaving Ukraine and conscripted them into the army, very few of the media wokesters openly questioned the plight of Kiev’s penis possessors who ‘felt’ like women. The shock of Putin’s invasion drove the subjectivity of postmoderism’s bastard kids from their minds faster than a confused teenage girl can unwrap her chest binding. War, like hunger and cold, is impervious to all the finer arguments of people’s feelings.

Post-woke, they’ll still be wood to cut

In a sense, this should give us on the ‘conservative’ side of the culture war hope. It will not take very much for the woke edifice to fall apart. A little hard work in the fields, a house too cold to sit around and watch TikTok videos in, or any kind of violence more dangerous than dead-naming or body shaming. The blue will grow out of their hair and all that will remain will be the silly tatooes, distorted and warped as their skin reforms around leaner, hungrier bodies. And when I look around at the state of the economy, I have little doubt that this will come to pass.

But the damage has been done. And it will outlast the silliness of woke ideology. Woke ideologies have done a poor job building their own cultural edifice, that is true. But like the statues Black Lives Matter tore down, it is far easier to destroy than to create. And at tearing things down, the wokesters been very effective. The real work will begin when the Church of Woke lies in ashes. That will be the time to construct a new world, based on objective truth and on values strong enough to survive SARS-3. Strong enough to survive even a pandemic of prosperity.

The ‘pandemic’ of overeducation

You can never been overdressed or overeducated’

It is a widely held tenet of modern liberal thinking that there is a strictly positive relationship between the amount of education in a society, and the health of its politics and economy. When I say ‘widely held’, I mean to include my former self in that particular bubble of groupthink. I have a couple of masters degrees and a BA – achievements of which I have always been proud – and so perhaps it was out of pure ego that I always imagined that with more education, would come better public accountability for our representative democracies, greater labour productivity and a more effiicent use of public resources for the benefit of all. I must have thought: if more people were like me, how much better a world we would have!

Houston, we have a problem

Then along came SARS-2, wafting out of a wet market and certainly not the virology lab across the road (pay no attention to that bat lady behind the curtain!). In a flash of media madness, decades of established wisdom on public health was thrown out the window – on the efficacy of community masking to prevent respiratory virus transmission, on pandemic planning, and on the correct way to approve and make available novel pharmaceutical products. Basic facts that were immediately and publicly available were ignored and labelled misinformation or conspiracy-think – such as the fact that SARS-2 had an infection fatality rate of 0.3% (lower in age-adjusted terms), and was therefore not that deadly. Bizarre doctrines like Zero Covid emerged in the teeth of common sense and all available evidence. ‘Long Covid’ became an article of faith, a gospel reading in the Church of ‘The Science’.

Was it simply panic? Perhaps in the early weeks. But as the hysteria wore on and the masks literally muffled any dissenting voices, I noticed a strange pattern among the Covid Zealots I knew – they were, with few exceptions, those who had the most higher education. Whereas the received wisdom on the benefits of higher education suggested they should be most able to critically dissect what was happening and make sense of it, they in fact proved to be least able to do so.

Saving grandma and a nasty commute, both at the same time

Many critical thinkers I know attributed this to simple self-interest. The laptop class was, after all, able to comfortably telework throughout the lockdowns. Many even relished the reprieve from painful commutes into crowded office buildings. They were certainly not the waiters, shopkeepers or small business owners most immediately impacted by closures. To borrow a phrase – it’s hard to make a soy-infused Guardianista understand something, when continued enjoyment of they/their home office depends on them/they/they’re/their not understanding it.

But this doesn’t explain the more extreme manifestations of Covid Zealotry, such as the willingness to subject oneself and one’s own children to an experimental treatment with no obvious benefits and unknown risks. Data shows that higher education levels are correlated with higher ‘vaccine’ uptake. Likewise: mask wearing was nowhere as ubiquitous as in the ivy-clad enclaves of New England’s educational elites. There can be no doubt – the well-educated actually believed this worm-infested horse crap.

Some readers might shrug this off as an obvious conclusion. The fact that college-smarties lack common sense is nothing new to the working classes who fix their leaky roofs, service their cars and install their ergonomic workspaces.

I think I thought I saw you try…to think

But perhaps there is a deeper point to be made about the nature of cognition and how it has changed in the age of mass higher education. In general, when we learn something new, we go through an inductive process of reasoning. A leads to B leads to C … which leads to a result. For example, if I want to learn how to fix the clogged drain in my bathroom sink, I need to understand how the u-bend works, what seals are there to stop leaks. Where the water will flow when I open the plumbing, etc. then I can figure out what to do first. I create a mindmap of understanding.

Now imagine I attempt to ‘learn’ something that is complex beyond my ability to construct the relevant mindmap. Imagine, for example, that I simply cannot follow all the threads of thought that allow for a complete understanding of the quantitative theory of money. Of imagine I am unable to prove from first principles the power rule in differential calculus. What becomes of me?

In a world where these respective tenets of economics and mathematics are kept as the preserve of a true intellectual elite, the answer would be: I am told by my professor that I don’t grasp the thing, I am handed a failing note and I go back to unclogging u-bends under bathroom sinks.

The democatisation of education ensures we get the graduates we deserve

But in the age of mass higher education, this is very much not what happens. The greater the number of intellectually average people admitted into the halls of knowledge, the more fails a professor would have to hand out, and that isn’t good for business. And so instead, a short cut solution is provided. I might not ‘get’ monetary theory, but I can accept as dogma that M x V = P x T. I might not ‘get’ calculus, but I can accept as dogma that f'(x) = r*x^(r-1) and dumbly apply this rule to enough problems on my term exam to get a passing grade.

The problem isn’t just that I graduate with no real understanding of maths or economics. It’s that by trying to educate myself beyond the limits of my own cognitive capacity, my brain becomes trained to accept a dogmatic link between premise and conclusion. The only thing I have really learned from four (or nine!) years of this charade is that there exists this sacred black box in which intellectual ‘things’ happen, and that is not to be questioned. Forever after, because my status as an educated person depends on the sanctity of that black box, I become a militant defender of whatever it might output. In other words, I become a zealous believer in ‘The Science’. Follow it. Follow it right off a cliff.

I have also reduced my ability to create even those mindmaps that would otherwise be within my cognitive scope. University trains me not only to stupidly absorb the conclusions of others’ learning, but to deny myself the ability to engage in any of my own. I would be much better served by puzzling over how to put up fenceposts for free range chickens, at which I would succeed with my own two hands; rather than puzzling over, and ultimately failing, to understand fluid dynamics or molecular biology.

Then when a novel problem comes along, I am lost, for there is no equation for me to follow. Intellectually lost, I take to Twitter in a confused play for answers from the hashtags of authority I trust and identify with. How easy it becomes for they/them who wield these hashtags to guide me towards whatever dogma serves their/they’re interests. How stupidly will I cling to this dogma, with all the strength of my ‘education’. How heavily will I beat down dissent, with all the heft of my bourgeois status.

We need to stop educating people beyond their intellectual limits.

My review of Thackeray’s ‘The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.’

The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. by William Makepeace Thackeray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was motivated to read ‘The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.‘ by the back cover blurb, in which it was noted that contemporaries of Thackeray, as well as the author himself, considered this novel not only superior to Vanity Fair, but in fact the greatest English novel ever written.

How could it be, I wondered, that a book which at the time was considered peerless, could today be utterly forgotten? Esmond, after all, appears on no one’s secondary school reading list. And while not technically out of print (in the age of print-on-demand, this is no longer a meaningful concept) you will not see this book on the shelves of booksellers. What’s more, all currently available editions on Amazon have less than half the number of reviews and a lower rating than my own first novel, “The Hydra“. What grim fate, then, could have befallen the greatest novel ever written in the English language?

The answer is important because of what it might imply about the nature of cultural capital as it is passed down to us through history. We assume, perhaps naively, that the great filtre of time is effective in separating out the literary wheat from the chaff. In other words, that the novels that survive the test of time represent the best of their kind, and therefore with limited reading time at our disposal, the casual reader should never bother looking beyond the Penguin classics shelf at their local Barnes & Nobel. As I cracked open the pages of the tattered 1950s paperback that chance had thrown into my possession, I wondered whether the filtre did in fact work as it was supposed to. Or were there great novels, Henry Esmond perhaps being one, which history had simply forgotten?

The plot line is linear yet compelling – like a nice piece of meat that doesn’t need an elaborate sauce. It tells the story of the title character as he straddles the religious divide between catholicism and protestantism, as well as the political divide between the Whigs and the Tories following the successful protestant insurgency led by William of Orange and his wife, Mary Stuart in 1688. Born to a great house but as an illegitimate son, our protagonist is likeable and nuanced. Esmond is a devout protestant and an English patriot, yet also fiercely loyal to the exiled catholic king, James III & VIII.
His love for his flighty and vain cousin Beatrix Castlewood mirrors his devotion to the ill-fated Stuart regency. These personal and political threads are woven together with delicious ingenuity, leading to a satisfying conclusion to the novel, including with a refreshingly surprising and modern ‘plot reveal’, which I will of course not spoil.

Yet I can’t help shrinking back from asserting this novel is better than Thackeray’s acknowledged masterpiece, Vanity Fair, or a host of other 19th Century chart-topping classics. As a historical fiction, much of Henry Esmond’s appeal no doubt lies in the readers’ prior knowledge of the events Thackeray brings to life – and by all accounts the author was a legit scholar of the age. To the modern reader, for whom the infamous misdeeds of Lord Mohun mean nothing, this spice is lost. Indeed, religious sectarianism is the pulse-raising plot dynamic motivating much of the action. But that which tore 17th Century England apart fails to inspire in the modern reader any emotional response beyond mild curiosity, save perhaps in enclaves in Northern Ireland or insofar as we can imagine parallels to the Middle East.

On balance, therefore, I would say that the great filtre of time is not entirely broken, even if great novels do slip through the cracks and get washed into the gutters of literary oblivion – and Henry Esmond is arguably such a case.
One message to would-be writers is, if you want your story to have lasting historical impact, know that adorning it with the baubles of The Current Thing will not be enough to earn you a place on your great great grandchildren’s bookshelf. For that, you will need the timeless elements of a perfect story, outstanding characters, compelling and unpredictable plot turns – and the most important ingredient of all: luck.




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Fiat fiddlers – playing with fire

Of all the worrying developments there are to blog about, of all the scary conflagrations of conventional wisdom this reckless age of policy pyromania has forced us to witness, the one I feel moved to comment on right now is the Great Fiat Fiddle.

The Great Fiat Fiddle can be traced back to a single smoldering cigarette butt, thrown carelessly out the window of the pre-Covid car. This occurred in 2018, when caught in the hysteria of Trump Derangement Syndrome, PayPal banned Alex Jones from using its platform. Like many’s the unacceptable precedent, the actual circumstances seemed so egregious at the time that few understood the implications of PayPal’s decision. After all, what Mr Jones said about some murdered schoolchildren was completely beyond the pale, and PayPal was a private company whose electronic payment platform was hardly fundamental to the world’s financial system. And so this little fire burned down to not very much, and the world went on with its business.

But that flame did not die out completely: a precedent was set. Payment systems began to consider whether they rightly had ethical obligations to police content related to payments made using their platforms.

This must have given ideas to policymakers too, whom we now know are deeply in bed with Big Tech at the highest levels. It really exploded last year, when the Woke Tyrant Justin Trudeau, who held his country in an authoritarian grip of covid hysteria, shut down a truckers protest by freezing the bank accounts of his political opponents, using emergency war-time powers.

More recently, the trend has spilled over into traditional banking, with Chase Manhattan discontinuing its business relationship with hip hop artist and troubled genius Kanye “Ye” West. And PayPal, not to be left behind in the trend it sparked to life, announced it would fine the accounts of those whose ideas (presumably as evoked publicly, recorded published or otherwise – this is not very clear) constitute (by whose reckoning is unclear) that modern day heresy against the Church of Woke known as “misinformation”.

Regardless of whether the Canadian truckers were right (plot spoiler: they were, because the vaxxed spread covid too), or whether “they” are making the frogs gay (plot spoiler: it seems they are) or whether it makes sense for a music artist to go to Defcon 3 against “the Jews” (plot spoiler: not so much), this politicization of the financial system is first and foremost a gross offense to liberalism and to the pluralistic values to which we aspire. Mechanisms exist in law to punish those whose speech or publications defame or malign others falsely – slander and libel. Such mechanisms are anchored within our democratic frameworks and therefore subject to the checks and balances of the system. But financial sanctions, which touch upon a person’s ability to conduct transactions, are a direct assault on property rights, with no democratic accountability, no due process and no right of appeal.

But it is more than this. The Great Fiat Fiddle stems from a fatal misunderstanding of the financial system and the fragilities we attempt to bury when we construct systems of fiat exchange. After all, a PayPal account only has ‘money’ in it, because someone believes there is money there at all. Ditto for a bank account. Ditto for the value we place in little pieces of paper currency in our physical wallets. The entire system exists as an artificial construct, which is only as real as we all agree to make it.

This is why in towns made of wood-framed buildings, the bank was the one building made of brick. Not, as is often believed, to deter bank robbers. But rather to give customers the subconscious idea that their money is safe. That the institution that holds it will not, under any circumstances, fail to make good on the promise to pay you your money. Not if they disagree with who you voted for. Not if you say hateful things. Not even if you torture kittens and baby seals.

If account holders lose faith in these systems, this trust will begin to unravel. And when that process starts, it spreads like a fire tearing through dry wood. The system is fragile, precisely because the money is, in reality, not there at all.

Five years ago when Jones got banned, I assumed this stupid and careless playing with fire would not result in much. The sheer strength of our system, I then believed, would smother that silly flame before it caused any real harm, and PayPal would suffer market consequences for what is clearly a bad business decision.

After seeing what has happened with Covid, and now more recently with Ukraine, I have come to realise there is no strength or wisdom left in our system. It is very well possible that political activisim and an axis of corporations and well-meaning government authoritarians will zealously pursue woke financial controls that destroy confidence in fiat currencies, causing an economic collapse and a reversion to hard forms of currency, which will render exchange more difficult, tax collection next to impossible and undermine even the most basic principle of human prosperity: specialisation of labour.

And the Great Fiat Emperors will fiddle while Rome burns.

Here’s a big subject on which I recently changed my mind

One of the more glaring things covid has reavealed is just how unwilling people are to change their minds. No amount of evidence that face masks do not work to stop the spread of SARS-2 will convince the pro-maskers that they were wrong. This intransigence when it comes to changing one’s mind seems to be a common feature in our mental makeup, perhaps reinforced by social media.

But I must admit, I found that in my mid-40s, I have very much changed my mind on a political issue on which I have thought often and long, over the course of my adult life – that being a woman’s right to procure an abortion.

As a humanist and a classical liberal, I have always held that one should have the choice to do whatever one wants, up to when that action impacts on the rights of others. It follows, therefore, that a woman’s right to choose an abortion can only be denied if the fetus is defined as a human life. Was it clear that the fetus was not a human life? No pro-choicer could convince me of the fact. Indeed, I had met many who never even tried. I concluded, therefore, that I was pro-life, not because I was certain that life began at the moment of creation, but because there was sufficient doubt to suggest this was the most moral course for society to take.

In the long months of lockdown, I came to reconsider this opinion. I came up with a reason why, after all, a fetus was not a human life; one that I found perfectly consistent with Christian theology and humanism. Indeed, one might sneeringly point out that it was the very fact of finding my freedoms curtailed, my body subject to vaccine mandates, that forced me to see another point of view. Perhaps so.

But there is a more philosophical path of reasoning, and it goes like this: What, after all, defines human life and makes it different to, say, the life of a bovine, whose muscle tissue finds its way into my cheeseburger? To answer this, I would say, and indeed have always said, that as a humanist and a Christian, the thing that makes us essentially different to animals is our free will. That is, we are human because we have the ability to choose good or evil. This fact is of course at the very genesis of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Do fetuses possess the ability to choose between good and evil? It should be clear that they do not. Indeed, it is very arguable that small children up to the age of three are not, in that philosophical sense at least, human. To be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting that because small children lack free will, and are therefore not spiritually human, then they are fair game for extermination under the law.

But it does take away the absolutist premise from the pro-life argument, and opens the door for a more nuanced perspective on what is the appropriate balance between society’s obligations to ‘potential humans’ absent that absolutist protection, and our obligation to respect the rights of a woman. These rights, after all, derive from her inalienable freedoms, because unlike the fetus growing inside her, she is a fully formed human; one who by definition fulfills the philosophical criterion of humankind – in that she possesses the ability to choose between two distinct moral outcomes.

This certainly doesn’t settle the abortion debate. Important questions remain about what the cut-off point should be – medically and ethically. For even if a fetus is not a fully formed human, that does not preclude some measure of protection. After all, the law forbids cruel treatment of animals. And it also does not settle the very important question of ‘male abortion’, of which I remain a staunch proponent.

The 10 rules of War Propaganda

The West is at war. And because of that, it’s worth remembering the ten basic rules of war propaganda that always apply when you read anything about the war.

  1. We didn’t want this war.
  2. The enemy is responsible for this war.
  3. The enemy’s leader is the devil.
  4. We’re fighting for a good cause.
  5. The enemy is using forbidden weapons.
  6. Horrible acts committed by the enemy are intentional; ours are accidental.
  7. Our casualties are minor; those of the enemy are significant.
  8. Artists and intellectuals support our cause.
  9. Our cause is holy/righteous.
  10. If you question (1)-(9), you are a traitor.

Happy birthday my son! (16th letter)

Well, here I am, writing to you again so soon.

I’m back home now after my trip to the USA. It was eventful and good to see your grandfather, who seems to be on a real path to recovery (fingers crossed). But after all that, it’s quiet in the house again – we got a little bit of a cold that is going around, so we’re hunkered down.

So I just wanted to send a quick message to wish you a happy birthday and to let you know that, as always, I am thinking of you.

My you must be getting big! – nearly heading into your teenage years! An exciting time lies ahead, with lots of fun and adventures, I am sure.

One day, I know we’ll have a chance to talk about all the great things you have been living. Until then, I am you loving father,

Dad

My review of George Orwell’s ‘Coming Up for Air’




Coming Up for Air by George Orwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before starting to read Coming Up for Air, I was 150 pages into a lesser known Dickens called Martin Chuzzlewit. I had resigned myself to the pompous 19th Century style, with its improbably overwritten dialogue and run-on sentences. After all, it was a Dickens, and that meant the payoff would be a good story.

Well, there is a reason why Chuzzlewit was lesser known. 140 years before the Fonz was doing it on waterskis, Dickens managed to jump a rather ugly shark – petty personal grievances arising from his America trip, and the even more unforgivable sin of writing what he did not know. And as the story of Chuzzlewit became less engaging, the prose appeared to grow more overwritten and tortorous by the page.

Coming out of this and into a nice George Orwell felt like, well, coming up for air. It also put Orwell’s style in just the right social context. He was among those post-WWI writers whose plain prose stood in deliberate counterpoint to the exclusive and pretentious verbosity of the Victorians, for whom ‘common’ was a synonym of ‘cheap’. For Orwell, a plainly written novel was in itself a political statement: the socialism of the written word.
This theme is also perfectly echoed in the book itself, which tells the story of an ordinary middle aged man with a deliberately ordinary name – George Bowling – whose life spans the trenches of the Great War. As his youth unfolds in memory, the reader is taken through the great changes that redefined England in the early 20th Century. The social: A shopboy finding a higher place in the new social order, with its illusion of meritocracy, and ‘iron cage’ economy. The physical: The engorgement of bucolic villages by industry, the surburban sprawl of London, turning the South of England into the ugly maze of A-roads, roundabouts and semi-detatched houses we all know and hate.

Coming Up for Air is also a deeply personal story, unlike Orwell’s more overtly political (and better known) works. Drawing on personal experience, the author manages to tread the perilous line of a flawed protagonist; one who yet remains human enough for us to like. That’s not easy to do. But Orwell goes further – he crafts a tale that is captivating despite having no real plot beyond whether or not George Bowling will catch a fish.
Yet the novel is most memorable not for its retrospective on the first four decades of the 20th Century, but rather for its precience concerning the fifth. At various times during my read, I had to return to the copyright page to check that the book truly was written in 1940. The foreshadowing of the Second World War was so uncanny it left the impression that Orwell had written it 8 years later, when the dust had begun to settle. This in itself makes the book compelling, especially for today’s reader, whose spidey sense is perhaps tingling with the same grim forebodings.
In summary, if you were to read only one book that covers the great social change in England caused by the wars, this would be the one I would recommend.




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Happy New Year (15th letter)

Hello my dear son!

Well, it is 2022 and I am in the United States, making an emergency visit to your grandfather, whom you don’t remember. But he did meet you once, when you were a tiny baby.
He’s not doing so well – he had a stroke, which is like a wound in your brain. He can’t walk and his speech is slurred. But the doctors think he could make a recovery, with hard work and a bit of luck.

The most I can do is give him encouragement. Your sister Anna is also here, helping and just being the wonderful person she always is.

In ways, I feel very blessed.

But of course I still miss you. The fact that you were taken out of my life remains the biggest point of soreness in my heart.

But one day, sooner or later, we will meet. I am sure of it.

Meanwhile: Happy New Year, my son.

Love,

Dad

Trawling Netflix for hidden Covid truth

Escaping the vaccine immune escape

Over the weekend, the weight of current events got to me. It drove me to seek distraction. More accurately, I promised my wife I’d take a break from reading Covid news and from futile debates online with Covid zealots. And so I took to Netflix and sought out some pre-2020 viewing I was convinced would be as far away from Emergency Use Authorisations, monoclonal antibodies and vaccine passports as possible. This took the form of one movie and one series: a rewatch of the excellent film “The Big Short”, and a new-ish series about a magician doing street tricks on randomers, called “Magic for Humans”.

Though highly entertaining, both titles failed to provide an escape from the ‘Rona Blues. To my utter surprise, I’d picked two offerings that struck closer to the heart of the Covid debate than any Joe Rogan podcast or John Campbell Youtube Clip could.

Blame it on the algorithm.

Herd immunity versus herd mentality

Of course, both are set in a world that existed before the corona crisis was even a twinkle in Klaus Schwab’s eye. The Big Short was made in 2015, but it describes events leading up to the financial crash of 2008. More specifically, it details how the mortgage bond market was manipulated through the creation of financial instruments (called collateralised debt obligations) that encouraged ever riskier subprime lending. I’d seen it all before, but in the rearview mirror of media-induced virus hysteria, the underlying theme really comes into focus.

The film lays bare that the 2008 crisis was not only likely, but in fact inevitable. The fascinating part of the story is not how a handful of finance guys figured this out (and therefore made millions), it is how everyone else didn’t. After all, nothing they discovered was in any way hidden. The only thing these guys did differently was look. They literally walked into housing estates in Florida and talked to mortgage brokers, homeowners and real estate agents and quickly understood that the loans backing the bonds were garbage. Which meant the bonds were garbage, which meant the banks holding the bonds were garbage.

How did Alan Greenspan and his successor Ben Bernanke not see this coming? How did the shareholders of the banks, who lost their life savings, not see it? How did the legislators and the President not see it? For those of us who still believe in rationality, it is a humbling reminder that the wisdom of the masses is based on nothing more than the wool of the sheep standing next to you. Just because something is posted on a billboard, a government website, or comes blasting out of your neighbour’s mouth, doesn’t make it true.

The other lesson from The Big Short, even more worrying, is that when this kind of mass delusion takes root, it takes a hard and painful crash in order for everyone to snap out of their hypnosis. That was what I stewed on as the closing credits rolled.

It’s a kinda magic

So I shook my head and turned to the magician Justin Willman doing tricks on the mask-free streets of a 2018 Los Angeles. “Magic for Humans” sounded both magical and, well, …human. Surely the widening of children’s eyes as a blob of water defies gravity would succeed where global financial mismanagement had failed to distract my Covid-addled brain. And the first few of Willman’s tricks did not disappoint – artful slights of hand; fun gimmicks to please passer-bys. That is, until he got to the internet influencers.

This segment came in episode 2, and it made my blood run cold. Three young internet personalities were brought into a sort of ‘fun house’ and given a diverse box of props. After a short introduction by the magician, they were asked to go around the various rooms with their phones, separately, and take selfies with whatever props they thought would make the best Instagram post. Afterwards, Willman asked them to each separately select the single best picture and give it a hashtag. Without any consultation, all three had chosen the same spot in the house – a watermelon themed swing; the same prop – an ice tray; and the same hashtag – #TrayCool. Then Willman revealed the picture he had already pre-cooked of himself with exactly the same details, the one he knew they would do too.

Influencing the influencers is scary-easy – “Magic for Humans” Episode 2 (Netflix)

Plus ca change, plus on demeure aussi idiot qu’avant

The point was that his ‘short intro’ was so full of suggestive images that they had been steered into making what they thought were independent choices, but were in fact pre-programmed by the magician himself. Of course, when you see a trick like that play out, it is almost impossible not to draw the parallels to what has been happening over the past 21 months. If one TV magician can manipulate people so completely in the space of five minutes, just think what a team of ‘nudgers’ in a government department could do, with the resources of the State, the complicity of the mainstream media, and the cooperation of all the Big Tech platforms.

Could they do enough to get people to take an experimental vaccine they don’t need and could possibly harm them? Enough to get them to give it to their children? Enough to get them to surrender all their civil liberties and cower from life, triple-masked, in a bubble of fear? Enough to get them to agree to show a medical record to access their local pub or supermarket, forever, with no sunset clause? Enough to get them to hate… yes HATE … anyone who opposes the prevailing narrative – even close friends, even loved ones?

Maybe so. We’ll have to wait for the Netflix documentary to find out.