The Oracle and the Glock

The worst lies are a mosaic made of a thousand truths

We live in a world of noise. Information, almost infinite, is streamed at us relentlessly, bombarding our minds and overwhelming our capacity to distill truth. In such a world, it is very easy for narrative weavers to create truth. After all, there are facts everywhere, enough that they can carefully select the ones that suit their message and create a story that is not only convincing, but is actually full of true facts. The lie is in the selection of facts, and the choice to omit ones that do not serve the narrative.

And yet… I believe with even a modest degree of focus, most of us would be capable of separating out the informational wheat from the chaff. I think we could know more truth with a bit more effort, if we really had to. The question is, how can that be done?

The Oracle and the Glock

This takes me to the ‘Oracle and the Glock’. One imagines an omniscient personage – for the sake of visualisation a faceless, spectral figure dressed in black body armour with empty, luminescent blue eyes, in the fires of which glows the flame of perfect knowledge. This is the Oracle. She is armed with a Glock 9mm pistol, black to match her general appearance.

Her M.O. is that she approaches you and places the barrel of the pistol against your temple. She then asks you a question; a question to which she, in her omniscience, already knows the correct answer. The game is quite simple. If you give her this correct answer, you live. If you fail to answer or you answer incorrectly, she will blow your brains out. But because the Oracle has some sense of justice, she will allow you enough time to scroll through the internet in search of whatever information you need to support your answer.

The question is this: In such a world, would more people come closer to the truth than is currently the case? In other words, how much is the plague of disinformation a result of willful ignorance, laziness and dishonest self-interest, and how much is a genuine artefact of the digital age, or the pernicious activities of Russian bots?

Who has Dominion over election results?

Perhaps it helps to consider a concrete example. Let’s take, for instance, the results of the 2020 US Presidential Election, in which Joe Biden is said to have defeated Donald Trump. Imagine the Oracle asked you this question, “If the 2020 election had been run entirely absent electoral fraud, mail-in ballot stuffing or manipulation of electronic voting machines, would Joe Biden still have been declared the winner?”

If you are a left-leaning, college educated Coastal American or a middle class European, you would casually answer this question with a ‘yes of course’ while sipping a £10 craft IPA with your friends on the sunny terrace of a trendy London bar. But imagine the question came while you were in the Oracle’s dark crucible, on your knees, transfixed by the piercing blue light of her spectral eyes?

I hope you would at least take the time to go through the evidence carefully – after all, the Oracle is patient. I hope the pressure of the Glock’s cold steel against your temple would make you just a little distrustful of the first few hits you got from Google. I hope you would dig a little deeper. You might think, ‘obviously the election wasn’t rigged. But, well, what if I’m wrong?’. Maybe you would dig out the footage of the vote count in Cook County or Philadelphia and look, really look, at what happened around 11 O’Clock that evening. Maybe you would listen, for the first time, to what Trump said that night and the next day and search for the lie in his eyes. What answer would he give to the Oracle? And if he really believed it was rigged, is he just a crazy, egotistical old man? Or did he know something I don’t? Maybe you would read the documents submitted by the Republicans in all the court cases that were dismissed for lack of standing.

You might even listen, for the first time in your life, to what intelligent people on the other side think is the right answer to this question. Not because you necessarily agree with them, but because there’s a chance you might be wrong. I certainly hope you would search for the truth, as if your life depended on it.

Because I know I would.

The pretense of knowledge, or ‘how to draw a very accurate map’

When I was a child, I liked to draw maps. Even at an early age, I understood there was something powerful about the ability to render graphic representations of spatial relationships on paper. From memory, I drew maps of the United States of America. It didn’t take me long to realise that if you memorised the big ticket contours (the point of Maine, the rough bulge of the mid-Atlantic, the curve and hook of Texas…) you could supplement this rough shape with random but detailed ‘squiggles’ that would approximate the twists and turns of the actual coastline.

To the casual eye, the map would look much more accurate that way. I recall some of my teachers’ reactions to these visually appealing, detailed maps of the US which decorated the blank pages of my phonics workbooks – they took me for some kind of prodigy. Of course, if you were to compare the detailed squiggles with the actual contours of the coast, there would be no more overlap than what chance might throw up – after all, I improvised the squiggles randomly. But it didn’t matter, the pretense of detailed knowledge was enough to convince most people that the map was far more accurate than it really was.

Would that this little deception remained in the workbooks of a 1980s schoolboy. Alas, this technique of pretending detailed knowledge has since gone mainstream. It defines ‘the Science’ behind a great many, drastic policy choices that are being implemented at this very moment.

Consider the Imperial College Model developed by Neil Ferguson, and which was adopted and copied to provide justification for draconian lockdown policies across the globe. The ‘model’ is very detailed and provides point estimates to a high degree of specification on how different policy choices would impact mortality as the pandemic progressed. The problem, of course, is that these estimates fell well outside the confidence intervals that should have been attached to them. If the fake squiggles had not been included in the model, the real answer would have been ‘we simply don’t know how many lives could be saved from locking down’.

Now, three years later, we can compare the fake Imperial College map with the actual evidence and we see how wrong they got it. Estimates for how many deaths would arise in the absence of lockdown were at least an order of magnitude wrong.

The same trick is being used to justify unprecedented changes in energy policy. Point estimates are being provided for the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and increases in surface air temperature, with a degree of precision that completely belies the actual level of confidence ‘the Science’ could have in these numbers. In fact, as I argued previously, it is not possible to know whether the changes in climate the Earth is currently experiencing are at all the result of an increased concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere, because the two bigger causes of atmospheric heat – solar irradiation and albedo – cannot be measured with the requisite degree of accuracy, much less do scientists have any idea of the dynamic interaction between the three effects.

Of course, the really big problem with the pretense of detailed knowledge is that it acts as an obstacle to the pursuit of real knowledge. Once I became adept at faking coastal squiggles, I stopped looking carefully at the outline of the actual Atlantic / Pacific coasts, because to do so would jeopardise the professed accuracy of the maps I already drew. The same is true for climate science. No one is spending time and money to figure out whether the intensity or composition of solar energy is changing in a way that would impact the climate, because the question has already been answered, and the Science is not a very humble religious institution.

The question now facing us is whether we, as a civilisation, are prepared to do better than a bored 8-year old sitting at the back of the class.

The shift in geopolitics – why RRR matters

Empires do not fade in a day. If you asked a British citizen when exactly their empire collapsed, they might point to the 1947 announcement of withdrawal from India, the British Empire’s crown jewel, as the landmark moment. But in reality, this merely formalised a shift that had been underway since the 1919 Government of India Act, the granting of home rule to the Irish Free State a few years later, and a whole host of other concessions the island rulers were forced into making as their economic and military power declined. By the end of World War II, the Empire had ceased to exist in all but its name, and in the collective consciousness of those old colonels living in a run-down seaside hotels, telling tourists about the time they hunted the Bengali tiger.

A hundred years later, the same might be said of that Empire known by euphemisms like – ‘the Western World’, the ‘liberal world order’, or my personal favourite: ‘the International Community’ – but is, in reality, better called the American Empire.

Not without some irony, Lingchi, the Chinese death by a thousand cuts, best describes what has been happening to this Empire. Cultural narratives like critical race theory and transactivism are tearing apart the Empire’s collective sense of self. As counterculture movements they are divisive by design. On the economic front, the steady offshoring of manufacturing capacity and the overeducation of a whole generation of unproductive soy-infused urbanites has left the Empire economically reliant on its favourable global terms of trade in order to maintain high standards of living among its ruling classes in the Coastal USA and in Europe. The legacy financial architecture, in the form of the petrodollar and the Bretton Woods institutions, grows shakier with every passing bank bailout. The ill-advised choice to politicise the SWIFT global payment system further erodes those financial foundations. At the same time, the self-hating ideology of climate activisim not only undermines the Empire’s own energy supply, but also heralds a steady attack on its productive capacity. Europe is about to ban combustion engine cars, a technology in which it maintains a historic advantage, in favour of battery-powered ones where it is forced to compete with China on more level terms, and where it is completely dependent on imported raw materials.

What, then, remains of the Empire and its ability to enforce its system of goverance on its global dependents? There is still some measure of political and cultural good will. While not entirely guiltless, this Empire has been more benevolent that many that have come before it, and American cultural exports like McDonald’s and Hollywood have made the Empire’s mass culture seem both accessible and aspirational. But I would argue that this good will has largely dissipated. Since Covid at the latest, the Empire is no longer a good ambassador of its own liberal values, if indeed it ever was. Hollywood has eaten itself, and Wokeism is a singularly unattractive cultural export for those in the far reaches of the Empire who feel neither guilt for American slavery, nor a desire to blur the gender divide between men and women.

What the American Empire still has, of course, is the world’s mightiest military – effective control of international shipping lanes, satellite communication and a network of bases that neatly spans the globe. But the world is big, and as the map shows, there’s an important gap in the Empire’s coverage, right where it matters most. With the exception of volatile Pakistan, the withdrawal from Afghanistan has left the Empire with virtually no foothold on the biggest and most valuable continent: Asia.

In fact, on closer inspection the Empire’s military grip is tenuous. Sloth in the military industrial complex and avarice among the Empire’s European vassal states have hollowed out its real fighting capacity. For the most part, the Empire rests on its historical reputation and on the fact that its adversaries lack coordination. The fear of American power – rather than the reality of its execution – has, up until now, been enough to deter any meaningful resistance.

In this context, the breakthrough success of the Indian film RRR gains new significance. A smash commercial hit for Netflix, the three hour Tollywood blockbuster tale of friendship and revolution in 1920s occupied India enchanted audiences well outside of Hindustan. That the navel-gazing, ultra-woke Hollywood Insiders chose to shower Oscar recognition on it is less important than the fact that it was watched – and loved – by the Empire’s ordinary subjects, just as much as by the barbarians outside its borders.

Because RRR is not an Indian imitation of a Hollywood film. It is unwaveringly, unflinchingly and unashamedly not Western. With its cinematography, its over-the-top choreography and its Hindi-language in-jokes, this film makes no attempt to appeal to Western audiences. Its global success is the proof that today, that is not even a requirement.

Most shocking is the depiction of the Westerners. The British colonial occupiers in RRR are not just ‘bad guys’. They are depraved, morally bankrupt and palpably evil. The only redeeming Western character is Jenny (Olivia Morris), the white woman who falls in love with the dominant Indian protagonist, and who finishes as a happy bride, dancing in a sari and singing in Hindi, unphased by the brutal annihilation of her wicked family and loss of her Western way of life. The message is clear: we’ll take their women too.

Yet that is not the worst. Nor is it even exceptional – after all, unflattering depictions of the West have been common in Western media for decades. The truly shocking thing about the British villians in RRR is that they are weak. Physically, morally and intellectually weak. They recoil as cowards against the righteous outrage of the Hindi protagonists. They cannot shoot for beans and they lack the physical strength of Indian men.

Whether this is an historically accurate and fair depiction of the British Army during the Raj is entirely beside the point. What matters is that in a global blockbuster that out-eyeballed all but a handful of Western films last year, the Indian director feels empowered enough to depict the West as hopelessly weak. And barely anyone bats an eyelid. India’s foreign minister even used the representation as a barb, in conversation with the American Empire’s foremost disgraced lapdog, Tony Blair.

A few months later, the world witnessed the spectacle of Presidents Xi and Putin embracing each other during a state visit to Moscow with a display of friendship and complicity that left little doubt about their intentions with respect to the American Empire. Neutral spectators from Latin America to Africa, to the Indopacific are watching. And now, they are no longer sure the West can contain this new Asian Axis. With emergent Hindi nationalism as a tailwind, and given the subcontinent’s historic links to the USSR, there is no guarantee that India will heed the American Empire’s warnings not to slide too far into a Putin-Xi rebel alliance.

After all, as RRR has shown, the world may have less to fear from weak, evil Westerners than the US State Department would like them to believe.

Eye-catching, provocative headline, tangental to subject

Opening premise that is sweeping and, if you ponder it for any length of time, probably questionable. Next, a flurry of facts the reader already knows to be true which seem to support the premise, omitting the ones that refute it or provide nuance. An appeal to the reader’s desire to feel ‘included’ in the group by mocking someone outside the group, who is too stupid to get the point here.

Construction of false dichotomy, with one pole being the conclusion you want the reader to reach, and the other being a ridiculous straw man argument. Elaboration on this straw man in great detail, in order to make it clear how ridiculous it is. Shoved-in call-back reference to the idiots you already mocked in paragraph one, who of course would also make the straw man argument. Now steel man any real argument against your premise, before smacking these down with more hyperbole and carefully curated facts.

A paragraph’s worth of accepted and true statements that have little to do with your main point, but with which the reader and any reasonable person would agree. Implication that the outsider idiot from above would probably also disagree with all of this.

Concluding quote from a famous and long-dead person that fits the general direction of argumentation, adding to it the heft of history and tradition.

Subliminal messaging – a novel conspiracy theory

A plandemic or a spamdemic?

I am still recovering from Covid. I think most of us are. By this, I certainly do not mean the effects of the SARS-2 virus on my body. That is not what ‘Covid’ is. Covid was and is a social construct. A state of mind that has variously been described by fellow critical thinkers as the result of mass psychosis, religious zealotry or the nefarious actions of a highly organised conspiracy.

Indeed, there is a lively debate in the community as to the extent to which many of the terrible outcomes were centrally planned, or were the result of an organic, systemic failure of our society to cope with a stress factor. Eugyppius, the German critical thinker whose substack is something of an authority on all matters covidian, flies the flag for system failure – pinning the blame squarely on the ineptitude of the technocratic managerial class that holds the real power in Western countries. Others point to damning evidence of the involvement of globalist elites, aligned to the World Economic Forum, in planning a so-called Great Reset.

Conspiracy theorists have more time on their hands than conspiracists

Personally, I have always aired closer to Eugyppius’ scepticism regarding the utility of tin foil hats. My own experience in proximity to ‘power’ has taught me that those who are thought to hold its reigns spend most of their time chasing after their own manic agendas. They barely have time to read the briefings that are shoved at them as they board airplanes – much less to craft the narratives that inform those briefings, in service of some conspiratorial purpose.

And yet, it cannot be denied that certain actors within the technocracy are motivated to play a key role in steering outcomes. Laura Dodsworth’s excellent ‘A State of Fear’ details how the UK government did exactly that, (though it stops short of providing a smoking gun motive for their actions – leaving open the possibility that the fear-inducing psy-ops perpetrated against the civilian populations were motivated by a misplaced yet well-intentioned belief in their necessity). Likewise, the Fauci emails and the Twitter Files clearly show deep and hidden linkages between the scientific
establishment, government and Big Tech, all acting in a way that shores up their respective power positions and bottom lines – the very essence of a conspiracy.

A novel conspiracy hypothesis

In this post, I would like to veer a little further away from Eugyppius’ position and down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theorising, with what I believe is a novel contribution to the saturated market of tin foil headwear. As the great Sherlock Holmes once remarked, we can sometimes learn more from a dog that does not bark in the night, than from listening to the ones who do. I say this because when I was a boy in the early 1980s, the talk was all about the use of subliminal messaging in advertising, spurred on by a 1970s book called Subliminal Seduction. Advertisers had discovered that they could splice in a single still frame into the middle of a video image – say, a nice refreshing bottle of Coke. The result would be that the conscious eye and mind did not perceive the embedded image or the ‘Drink Coke’ slogan. However, tests showed that when this was done, it had a very strong impact on the subconscious desires of those subjects exposed to the subliminal image. Those who had ‘seen’ the spliced-up video expressed a much greater preference for Coke.

The subliminal messaging was found to be so effective precisely because it did not register a conscious response. The subject’s usual mental defences against the effects of overt advertising did not kick in.

Naturally, there was no small degree of uproar. Advertisers rushed to assure a worried public that they would never engage in such underhand tactics, the FCC intervened in the public interest, and soon the story faded from the public eye. It was understood that whatever short term gains a product could achieve in this way would be more than undermined by the reputational damage of getting caught doing it. And because the same subliminal image would be diffused millions of times to TV sets across the country, it was sure that they would in fact get caught doing it.

Mind tricks in the digital age

That was then. Now imagine the same technology being used on tech platforms. Imagine the ability to splice in a single message into a gif or video clip on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or TikTok. Now imagine that the efficacy of that message was powered not just by generic 1980s Madison Ave advertising trickery, but by custom-generated user data and algorithms that allowed the messenger to craft ‘the perfect’ subliminal message for each and every user. For example, imagine the cute cat video you just watched had, cut into it, a 1:24 frame image of a Covid virus and the words ‘Stay home or you will die the way your mother died last August’, when in fact your mother had died last
August. What chances would you have of not being scared to death of Covid?

Big Brother isn’t watching you, you’re watching him

There is absolutely no doubt that this technology exists and that it could be deployed. Since the release of the Twitter Files, there is also little doubt that the government – or at least that part of it Glenn Greenwald refers to as the US Security State – has infiltrated Big Tech platforms to a sufficient degree to be able to undertake such an operation.

Of course, I will take my tin foil hat off long enough to admit that I have not a shred of evidence for any of this. But given how effective we knew it to be even without customisation, what are the chances that subliminal messaging is not being used in the Tech Age? And to return to Holmes’ dictum, if it is being used, why have we not heard more night-time barking from this particular dog?

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, there’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.

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.