So here we are at Point ‘A,’ otherwise known as ‘the present.’ And all of us want to get to Point ‘B,’ a land of freedom and safety and peace, where our children can play out in the flowers with the bunnies and the baby deer.
The arguing starts when we begin to plot a course from Point A to Point B.
Okay, so we buy all the maps we can, lay them out on a table and set sail. But before we are out of the harbor, we see that some maps have channels marked for clear sailing, while others have horrible reefs and shoals in exactly the same place.
It reflects no great credit on us as a species when we come to the sorry realization that most people would rather just sit in the chartroom and argue about the maps than actually navigate to safety. This tendency to believe social theory over practical observation has cost the lives of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people -‘ every one as unique as that wonderful and charming you.
People will sit in the chartroom, and argue about their maps, while the ship of history rips out her keel -‘ it has happened so many times that it is beyond counting, and is, indeed, why so many very bright people -‘ people like Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain -‘ seem to lose all hope and are left with nothing but their bitter humor to point out how pathetic and futile it all is.
But as the arguments rage hither and yon down in the chartroom, as maps and cartographers are bandied back and forth like trading cards and people come to blows over mapmakers dead a century or a millennium before, there does remain one small, unassuming little token of hope. Not much really, just an action so simple and obvious that we overlook it time and time again.
What can we do to end this arguing about which way to sail and on what map? How can we tell where the reefs and channels really are? Dear God, is there nothing we can do to get an answer among all these authorities?
Yes, you -‘ the eager kid in the front row -‘ you say we should what? Go on deck and look outside?
How na’ve! How unsophisticated! How lacking in nuance! How’American. It can’t be as simple as that.
Oh, but it can, bucko. It really can be: Just. That. Simple.
I know that it is not common practice to read standing up; however, if you are reading this while standing I urge you in the strongest imaginable terms to sit down right away, because what you are about to read in the very next sentence will so invert your preconceived notions that you may experience dizziness, nausea and end up taking a very nasty fall, and I don’t wish to be responsible for that -‘ so here goes:
I was kind of a dork in High School.
No, it’s too true. How dorky was I? I was dorky enough to be on the Debate Team, and worse, I was dorky enough to be good at it.
I learned two important things in High School Debate:
1. There are no cheerleaders for Debate.
2. Authorities are worthless.
At least, the idea of appeal to authority is worthless. Let me demonstrate with an amusing anecdote’
High School Debate -‘ at least its 1977 variant -‘ had nothing really to do with debate. It was nothing more than four pimply-faced kids standing in front of a room of bored adults trying to see who can read the most index cards in the shortest period of time.
You see, each year, the Debate Fairy set a national topic: in my senior year it was Prison Reform. One team, the Affirmative team, would try to make the case that even as we sit in the classroom waving evidence cards, vast armies of super-human, pumped-up, rage-addicted Uber-prisoners were at this very moment breaking into the judges’ houses and eating their precious children with fava beans and a nice Chianti. Something must be done! The other team, the Negative team, would try to make the case that things are swell and we don’t need prison reform -‘ in fact, any prison reform whatsoever would cause the moon to fall out of its orbit and crash into your very house crushing your precious children, plus your supply of fava beans and nice Chiantis, even as we speak. It ain’t broke so don’t fix it!
Now all this would be nothing more than a six-year-old’s game of Cowboys and Indians with all the accompanying ‘I-got-you-no-you-didn’t’ nonsense, except for the presence of one critical element: evidence.
Now here comes the transcendental moment for those of us who were paying attention: neither team knew until moments before the debate whether they were going to be affirmative or negative. What that means is, at any given tournament, we had to have tons of evidence and countless index cards with sources like US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT and studies from places like EMORY UNIVERSITY and HARVARD SCHOOL OF LAW’ and we had to have this mountain of evidence for both sides of the argument.
If we were Affirmative, we might have written a neat little case outlining the critical and extremely urgent need for… oh, let’s say conjugal visits. (We perpetually horny high school dorks really seemed to like arguing that case waaaay beyond its effective shelf life.) We had card after card after card of evidence citing things like an Authoritative Study done at Florida State University that showed unequivocally how Conjugal Visits reduce the incidents of prison violence to negative numbers and cause prisoners to start lending libraries and donate their cigarette money to Battered Women’s Shelters. However, if we randomly ended up as the Negative team, and sat facing other dorks who claimed that conjugal visitation reduce the incidents of prison violence to negative numbers and cause prisoners to start lending libraries and donate their cigarette money to Battered Women’s Shelters, then we would have to pull out card after card after card showing that an Important and Thorough Investigation carried out by The University of Florida proved conclusively that Conjugal Visitation had in fact no measurable effect at all, or, better, caused prisoners to murder guards by hanging them by their own entrails due to their aroused, inter-conjugal libidos.
Now you can follow this absolutely truthful farce to its logical conclusion: namely, that since both sides had evidence and experts out the wazoo, then the only way for the poor hapless judge to be able to determine a winner was to see who could get the most evidence out in the smallest span of time. And so debate, which I had hoped and assumed would be the art of persuasion by argument, had long before devolved into ‘flow charts’ listing what expert said what, which was then countered by a study contradicting his findings, followed by an investigation into the methodological flaws in the contradiction, followed by revelations that the expert who found the methodological flaw in the contradiction to the original study actually owned a motor home dealership which rented space for’prison conjugal visitation.
Now when my partner, Willie, was first affirmative, he made the case -‘ and when he was first negative he attacked the case. I presented or attacked the plan. We -‘ I should say Willie, as this was pre-Google and one had to go to the library — started the year with a small box of index cards. An arms race soon developed, as we started to meet teams with two or three boxes of index cards, so we raised them a briefcase. They responded with two or three briefcases, and before we could counter with a convoy of wheeled filing cabinets, I began to realize that all of the cards and briefcases were essentially nothing more than props. These props gave us the illusion of credibility -‘ three briefcases of evidence cards! Wow! These kids know their shit from their Shinola!
However, once the Very Important Authority genie was out of the bottle, I no longer had any faith in it whatsoever. And so when I did my plan attack, I would appear to thoughtfully and with great consideration grab three or four random cards -‘ preferably one from each case -‘ and then I would get up in front of the judges. And instead of rattling off flow charts and evidence like the other countless drones they had heard all the long, long , loooong day, I would sit back against the table, look them in the eye, and smile. Then I’d say, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, our opponents have their evidence” ‘ gesture ‘ ‘and we have ours.’
At this point I would wave the random cards.
‘So I’m going to just put these cards down” -‘ awesome -‘ ‘and just ask you to think about this plan of theirs. Just use your common sense. This idea of letting serial pedophiles go out daily -‘ unsupervised — to grow sunflowers in Child Care centers in order to raise their self esteem and provide valuable sunflower-growing skills’does this really seem like such a good idea to you, despite what Dr. Willoughby Cardigan-Ross of the Yale University Sunflower Enrichment Center for the Cessation of Prison Violence has to say?’
We won a lot of debates that way.
We won a lot of debates that way because, contrary to what the self-appointed elite believe -‘ and what they are trying mightily to convince you to believe -‘ the fact remains that the common person both here and abroad is not stupid at all.
This is terrifying to the elites. They see themselves as Baron Frankenstein, and us as the unruly mob armed with pitchforks and torches.
I see us both that way too.
Common people may not have access to as many evidence cards; that is true. But as I said, those cards cut both ways. You don’t have to take my word for this: in fact, the whole point of this book is to urge you not to take anybody’s word for anything without challenging it. So ask yourself: How many of these endless debates bring out endless experts and endless studies to endlessly try to convince you of an outcome you have already experienced just through the act of living and working out in the real world -‘ so-called because that is where reality lives? What does your experience tell you? Because experience -‘ that is, experimental results -‘ are worth a thousand theories. When you use your common sense, your experience, you are opening the window and seeing whether or not the map matches the coastline. If it does not, then it doesn’t matter how credentialed or tenured or respected the cartographer is or was -‘ he is wrong. He says river delta; there sits a waterfall. Wrong.
These people, down below, arguing endlessly in the chartroom -‘ they have a word for themselves that they find flattering. They call themselves intellectuals. I considered myself one, and believed all manner of mental pudding until I got a little experience, and as a result of opening that window on life, I am far less intellectual and immeasurably more intelligent.
It’s sad but true: there are people who are deathly afraid to go up on deck, face the sunshine, and realize that the maps they have so lovingly and painstakingly crafted over decades are essentially worthless pieces of crap. They are so wrong, in so many places, that they are far worse than no maps at all. They draw all manner of hazards where there are none, and disasterously, they show open seas and smooth sailing in the most treacherous and deadly places. Such maps are not merely worthless; they are dangerous.
There was a time when intellectual meant someone who uses reason and intellect. Today, people who call themselves intellectuals are in a form of mental death spiral: they search for, and find, those index cards that support their world view, and clutch little red books like rosaries in the face of all external evidence. They are ruled by appeals to authority. Their self-image and sense of emotional well-being trumps any and all objective evidence to the contrary.
How many students today believe what they believe because they met someone who knew a guy whose girlfriend turned him on to an article by Noam Chomsky? Noam Chomsky predicted, in his even, intellectual, authoritative, tenured manner, that if the US went to war in Afghanistan after 9/11, the result would be 3 million Afghan casualties. How many of these students who worship St. Noam independently ask themselves why he has, to date, come up 2,999,500 bodies short? Noam is not wrong by a factor of one or two; Noam is not wrong by an order of magnitude. Noam is not wrong by a factor of a hundred to one. Noam is wrong by more than three orders of magnitude. Noam is wrong by a factor of 6,000 to one. Noam says the reef is ten feet off the port bow; when in fact it is more than three miles away. That’s six thousand to one. Noam says the ocean is six thousand feet deep when in fact the keel has been ripped out and is sitting on the sandbar back yonder: that’s a 6,000-to-one error. Extrapolating this accuracy rate, if Noam writes 6,000 pages on the evil of the United States, how many pages of truth might there by in such a twenty-volume set?
Does this mean that everything Noam Chomsky writes is nonsense? Not at all. He is a professor of Linguistics. I am not qualified to say how accurate the work in his field of expertise is. I can however make a stab at how accurate he is in the field of US foreign policy, and if you have a handheld calculator at home, you can make the same comparison and achieve the same results.
The same goes for Michael Moore. Are all of his maps incorrect? No, just almost all of them. While he is demonstrably wrong about the contours of the American Character, I’m sure he has the route to his bank well worked out, and his triangulation of the location of nearby donut shops has attained GPS-like accuracy.
And I never claimed I would never take cheap shots; only that I have a strict quota that I abide by religiously.
Intellectualism, as it is practiced today, is a trap.
It is not a palatial hall of great minds looking for answers and then testing them in the real world; it is a basement in your parent’s house filled with lazy and filthy hippies eating your leftovers and drinking the last of your milk. Intellectualism is certainly not the same as intelligence, and more and more, it is becoming antithetical to intelligence. When well-off people who call themselves intellectuals drive their SUV’s to march in support of Marxism, you can see the chasm between intellectualism and intelligence in full flower. When elitists who fancy themselves brighter and more compassionate than the rest of us choose to support the Taliban, with its stoning of women and execution of homosexuals in football stadiums before mandatory audiences, over a representative democracy with unparalleled structural protections of minorities and freedoms of expression, then self-styled intellectuals have abandoned intelligence altogether, as well as morality, reason, compassion and indeed sanity.
Likewise, when coffee-house intellectuals dictate their worldview according to non-existent pipelines or supposed theft of oil revenues where no evidence of such theft can be produced but deposits into Iraqi national accounts can, then one has to ask one’s self if this intellectual badge is worth the mud it’s printed on.
There are two other salient qualities that seem to define the modern intellectual, and neither of them reflect glory upon the title.
The first is a preening arrogance. This goes well beyond the larval, poseur stage; otherwise known as the Coffee-shop intellectual. These are the profound ponderers with the round glasses that have no prescription lenses -‘ but they certainly do make one look serious and deep -‘ and that is the important thing. They carry obscure books by French intellectuals which they pretend to read in the original French.
They are emotional eleven year olds trying to look adult by smoking cigarettes; as with eleven year old smokers, one does not know whether to laugh or cry. In any case they are harmless and can be safely ignored. Far more dangerous are people who manage to worm their way into positions of influence, usually in bureaucracies or university faculties, and then can inflict tremendous damage -‘ although not through bold action, for action is anathema to today’s intellectual set.
No, it is a slow, corrosive process, and one has only to look at the language of deconstructionism and post-modernism to realize that the goal of the professional intellectual is to take any problem or issue that might exist in the real world, and try to reduce it to language. Once this troublesome reality can be corralled into nothing more than a linguistic debate, they are in their sole area of competence and actually have a chance to win something for once in their lives. This is why some people see bad men doing bad things that must be stopped, and others see disadvantaged individuals victimized by cultural and economic paradigms of inequality that force them into involuntary self-destructive behavioral modalities that are predicated on and the result of external dynamics beyond their control or cognitive abilities, resulting in behavior modification protocols that are aimed at recovering basal self-esteem levels while providing the disadvantaged individual skill sets essential to their reintegration into the community and a return to standardized norms of societal interaction.
These are the bastards on Central Planning Committees who have never been to a machine shop, but who think they know more about running a machine shop than the person who actually runs the machine shop because they have a masters degree in economics.
Arrogance, thy name is Starbucks.
The second disturbing and disgusting trait of modern intellectuals is their transparent use of argument and appeals to authority as a means to camouflage their moral and physical cowardice and complete inability to act. These are the Uruk-hai of modern degenerate intellectualism; people who use the endless supplies of evidence cards and dueling authorities to argue and debate and extemporize and orate and rationalize and discuss and criticize so long as one never, ever actually has to do something.
That is why so many of these groups like Not in Our Name or Actors United to Win Without War are so appealing to intellectuals: it allows them to take a position as champions of Peace and Compassion without having to do something.
Not in Our Name is against the war in Iraq. Fine. Saddam was killing perhaps 20,000 people a year, and forcing millions to live in terror that exceeds that of having your screenplay put into turnaround; that in addition to all of the geopolitical turmoil. What about those people? What about those -‘ wait for it -‘ children? And how do we ‘win without war’ against a regime like that? More Sanctions? No sanctions? Just let him buy as many people shredders as he can afford by stealing his nation’s oil wealth, and send Strongly Worded Letters the next time he decides to launch another lunatic war somewhere? You don’t want war -‘ fine. Neither do I. But clearly, somebody has to do something. Just exactly how do we ‘win’ without’
These ‘intellectuals’ are cowards. Action, and the consequences of action, completely paralyze them -‘ it literally strikes them loquacious. They become so afraid of doing something that they are reduced to a non-stop, really quite pathetic jabbering. The French, in particular, have made this into an art form that has religious overtones for them. They seem to really believe that as long as you are talking, nothing bad can happen to you. Their historical vision stretches back less than fifty years. And they say we are the unsophisticated ones, the adolescents.
Ah, oui monsieur, I can see from your very fierce expression that you intend to rape my young daughter. Well, she is quite charming, one must admit, but I could not help but notice, monsieur, the very fine quality of that trench coat you are wearing’is that a Belgian tweed? No, of course, c’est bon, but you will admit monsieur that it does appear unseasonably wet for this time of year’please, Martinique, do not struggle; Papa is trying to have a conversation with this charming gentleman’ mon dieu! What a remarkable physique you have, monsieur! You must frequent the gymnasium quite regularly, do you not, mon ami..?
This is not nuance; it is not sophistication; it is not noble or refined or admirable. It is cowardice. It is fear of taking action when action needs to be taken, and the main goal of modern intellectualism is to convince people that taking action when action is called for is the mark of an idiot, a philistine or a child.
Listen, I’m all in favor of reading and studying all manner of philosophy and literature. And while social studies evidence cards cut both ways, there were not too many expert physicists out there claiming objects fall up off the table and into the air. Both intellectual study, and expert opinion, have their place. It is only when they are used beyond their limits that problems come thick and heavy.
So far, not one book or one author has seemed to write the definitive manual on how people behave and why. They in themselves have little or no predictive value whatsoever. They are useful lighthouses to mark distant positions, and they open our eyes to new viewpoints and new experiences. But one book, or one philosopher, or one revolutionary has not yet been able to pen a work that will tell us how people will behave. And yet, among these so-called elites, there are many who take the word of, say, a German expatriate, living in Britain, at the dawn of the Industrial Age, as a guide for living in an Information-Age culture dominated by an explosion of freedom and prosperity brought about precisely by ignoring what that individual wrote and doing exactly the opposite.
Don’t take my word for this. Let’s not sit down in the bilge arguing about whether Karl Marx or Adam Smith had the best course to freedom and happiness. Let’s just go up the stairs, open a hatch, go out on deck, get out the telescope and have a look at what actually happened.
We are not blind, and we are not crippled, and the world is not a novel or a treatise or a theory or a manifesto. It exists. We can go look for ourselves. And on the way up, when those desperate elitist bastards start clutching at your ankles and implore you to stay below where it’s safe and argue some more’be sure to kick those sons of bitches right in the teeth. Their blind obedience to their Big Ideas have killed more people in history than anything except disease. Boot to the the teeth, I say.
But that’s just me. You’ve been around. You’re no sap. What do you think?
Is learning to think this way really very difficult? Does it require nuance? A Ph.D? A French accent?
No, it is much simpler than that. It is so simple, in fact, that today’s intellectuals are completely incapable of understanding it. It is, like the Universe, elegantly simple. E=mc2 simple.
Socialist intellectuals will tell you that Cuba is a model nation: universal free health care, near total literacy, and essentially no gap whatsoever between the rich and the poor. They call it an island paradise where brotherhood and compassion reign in stark contrast to the brutal inequalities of the heartless and racist capitalist monster to the North, ruled by it’s Imperial Nazi King, who is the devious mastermind of all manner of Conspiratorial Wheels and also a moron.
Capitalist intellectuals -‘ and there are not many, since most of these people have jobs -‘ argue that Cuba is a squalid, corrupt, poverty-ridden basket case, a land of oppression and secret police and torture chambers run by a megalomaniac who practices the most idiotic, inhuman and degrading economic system ever invented.
So here we sit in the chartroom, with our competing maps. What to think?
Well, we can agree that the act of giving up your home, your friends and your family must be traumatic, especially since you will face prison, or worse, if you are caught trying to vote with your feet. And I think all can agree that placing your infant daughter and your aged mother on a raft of inner tubes would be a trifle more traumatic and horrifying than not getting enough whole cane sugar in your grande frappucino at Starbucks.
So, is Socialism a better way to live, or is Capitalism? Leave the armies of experts and intellectuals down in the bilge where they belong.
Go up on deck, get out the telescope, and answer one simple question for me and for yourself:
Which way are the rafts headed?
(To the early arrivals: I woke up with a head full of paragraphs. The middle of the chapter has some new material since I posted it late last night. Salud!)