Friday, December 31, 2010


I quite often hear it said that, to reach the truth, what we need is a skeptical mind, or, as Dr. Judy Wood puts it (in relation to the 9/11 event), to "question everything and everyone." 

On the face of it this might seem a sensible way of arriving at the truth, but on closer inspection I fear it's just as divorced from reality as that other pithy little apothegm, “‘Assume’ makes an ass out of you and me” (because everything, when you come right down to it, is an assumption). Paul Craig Roberts seems to have a better handle on things when he writes

The notion that "we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead" is an extremely romantic and idealistic notion. I have seldom experienced open minds even in academic discourse or in the highest levels of government. Among the public at large, the ability to follow the truth wherever it may lead is almost non-existent. (“Why Propaganda Trumps Truth”, Sep 15, 2009, Information Clearing House)

Nevertheless – and with apologies to Paul Craig Roberts, whom I greatly respect and admire – I suspect that even this statement contains within it the belief that following the truth “wherever it may lead” is at least possible.

If you, dear reader, are also a member of the public at large, then it should come as a relief to you to learn that it is not, actually, possible either to question everything, or to follow the truth wherever it may lead. Reality simply isn’t set up like that. We can certainly expand our store of knowledge by (somehow) expanding our sphere of interest, but interest is the necessary starting point of all inquiry, and interest always implies selection. Selection, of course, means narrowing our field of inquiry. If we were to question everything then we’d have to be interested in everything, and we’d settle on nothing. Our field of inquiry must on the one hand begin with some premises – some foundational assumptions which guide our search for “truth” - and on the other hand be limited to what we consider interesting. It’s interest that drives the whole thing. Without interest we’re not going to look at anything at all. 

Another scientist, Stephen Jones, (also referring to 9/11) says,

"it is an 'unscientific method' when one starts with a conclusion and then finds just those facts that support that conclusion while ignoring everything else."

Yes, we’ve all heard about “cherry picking” the data, but again, he can’t mean everything else, because that would imply that there was no selection process needed in a study of the “facts” – they would all, supposedly, be equally relevant. But data is always cherry-picked! All we mean by that term is that the other guy has selected data by a different set of biases from ours! 

I suspect that the cause of this general misapprehension – that to reach the truth all we have to do is to “keep an open mind” and “look at everything” - is an excessive faith in the power of these wretched, so-called “facts”. Almost everyone these days seems to think that “facts” are in some concrete sense “out there”, like fruit waiting to be plucked, and that all you’ve got to do is step outside your front door, reach up and there they are, ready for the taking. Nice, round, plump, juicy facts.

Oh, you thought that too, did you? Well, not to wake you too rudely from your slumbers, but no, it ain’t like that. It ain’t like that at all.

The quality of a fact, any fact, depends on what you believe. You are the arbiter of your truth. And therein lies both our difficulty and the source of our belief that the facts are “out there”. The tapestry of experience is infinite. No two people share exactly the same interests, stand in exactly the same position at the same moment, have exactly the same background, age, education, training, susceptibilities, phobias, allergies, hobbies, talents, skills, tastes, physical strength, weight, height, EQ, IQ, prejudices… I could go on and on. All these differences add up to – surprise, surprise - an often radically different selection of “facts” from the infinite ground of all being. To see all the “facts” is not only impossible, it’s meaningless. Meaning involves selection and ordering of mental contents on the basis of pre-established values. Our beliefs tell us what “facts” to look for. We then see what we believe. If you like, we tell the “facts” what to say. They do not “speak for themselves”.

In The Voyage of the Beagle Charles Darwin describes how the Tierra del Fuegians, naked savages who had never before set eyes on either white men or sailing ships, swarmed over the Beagle, consumed with curiosity over any object small enough to hold in their hands, but apparently oblivious to the ship itself, which was altogether beyond their comprehension. Robert Hughes describes something very similar in The Fatal Shore, his epic tale of the founding of Australia. Of the first encounter between white men and Australian aboriginals on April 29,1770, he writes that the crew aboard the Endeavour

… saw bark canoes, and in them blacks were fishing. The ship floated past these frail coracles. It was the largest artifact ever seen on the east coast of Australia, an object so huge, complex and unfamiliar as to defy the natives’ understanding… the Australians took no notice. They displayed neither fear nor interest and went on fishing. (The Fatal Shore, p. 53. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1987)

Do we ourselves comprehend the significance of this? An entire sailing ship, 106 feet long, escapes the notice of fishermen past whom it sails at very close range. They do not see it.

What holds a society together is the values that its members share. Without this “conspiracy” to agree on what’s out there, no communication whatever would be possible. Only through the agency of those values we agree to share can we enjoy a mutually coherent world. There is, then, an intimate connection between “the truth” and the group. Similarly, what we call the objectivity of science is embedded in a matrix of such shared values, apart from which its constructs could not exist. Facts, my friends, are agreements about what constitutes reality. And isolation in science is as fatal as isolation in society. To prosper an idea must be communicated – that is to say, agreed on. Without such agreements communication between the members of the group would be utterly and completely impossible. There would be no group; no society.

But to get from what I believe to what we believe requires a tremendous, indeed an incessant, often bloody struggle. Somehow – by hook or by crook – people have to be persuaded, seduced, cajoled, bullied, tortured, coerced, and generally made to believe the same thing, if a society is to prosper. In its most benign form this process is called “education”. Obviously the resulting world view can only be a myth. Yet the myth is taken for reality, and the true source of reality – the individual, in whom all experience resides – is only considered sane to the extent that he conforms to this myth which he has by hook or by crook been persuaded to agree to.

No man is an island. We are deeply and irrevocably communal, but there is a more-or-less constant tension between what I think and what the group thinks – the reality of the individual versus the agreed fiction of the group. Failure to communicate our beliefs is extremely frustrating. Failure to agree (agreement being what communication is) leads us immediately to anger, then rage. And rage leads to name-calling, and blows. Other people are "crazy", “wingnuts", "retarded" when they refuse to see the world as we see it – whether we're wearing our religious hat, our social hat, or our scientific hat. If ours is the majority view then we feel the strength of the herd behind us, and our righteous indignation can be very insistent indeed. When two such groups clash – oh boy! The clash between the 9/11 Truth Movement and the debunkers is little different in this respect to that between Sunnis and Shiites, or Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, the feeling of personal righteousness on both sides is identical. Each side claims “objectivity”, each side claims to be in possession of “the facts”. Each side sees the other as stupid, or willfully ignorant, or in league with evil, for failing to agree with their myth. And this state of affairs is what we call “spreading the truth”.

“Authority” is the term we use to describe any agency that creates and maintains agreement. I shall attempt another blog post on that, but for now let’s just say that authority takes as many forms as are required to perform this function, and that in most societies authority – that which ensures that our behavior, where necessary, conforms with that of others – is pretty much all-pervasive. Consequently the activity of thinking for ourselves and questioning “everything” is a highly circumscribed endeavor. We are, like it or not, creatures of our culture.

Lacking the unifying influence of authority (in whatever form) there would be as many interpretations of reality – of “facts” – as there are people on the planet. If each of us, independently and always, in complete defiance of our social nature, questioned everything, we would be perpetually alone. If, as seekers after “the truth”, everyone went his own way and had his own theories about the world without reference to anyone else, nothing that we now share would ever have been built, or, being already built, now remain standing. We would be completely dissociated; without language; without thought. No-one could communicate with anyone else (or deem it worthwhile to attempt to do so). Instead we would have built ourselves, in effect, a Tower of Babel.

Friday, December 24, 2010


It’s our particular cultural prejudice to believe in the permanence of ‘facts’. Facts, we say, are what is real. Facts, we aver, are ‘out there’, concrete, dependable.
But facts are not quite the hard and fast things we think they are. No-one, surely, disputes that we all see ‘the facts’ at least slightly differently. What we do dispute – constantly - is other people’s right to do so.

For societies to function there has to be agreement on what the facts are, or at least those facts that hold us together, and that’s where we exchange one problem (that we all tend to see the world differently) for another: to communicate at all, we have to agree – so whose facts are we to adopt?

Until very recently that question was answered by the received wisdom of ritual and the twin authorities of tradition and religion, all imposed by parents, teachers, officers of the law, and the priesthood. These authorities, however, have seen a steady erosion of their cohesive power with the advance of science, which, with its insistence on ‘objectivity’, has declared such sources of knowledge and forces of social control ‘irrational’. Science deals with facts. Scientific facts are objective, dependable. Traditional authority is not science-based, but belief-based, and subjective, hence unreliable.

But here’s the problem, and it’s a huge one: if we allow that the objective world of science is what is real, then the subjective realm becomes subordinate to the objective, and belief becomes merely a matter of taste. Science is then presumed to govern ‘rational’ behavior, and, with the rug pulled from under all our beliefs, we are reduced to the dictates of what is merely efficient. Such a transformation of society is happening right now, and even as we are rapidly losing our birthright we have the feeling that we no longer have a moral leg to stand on. To the extent that we now believe ourselves to inhabit an objective world we are relegating ourselves to moral paralysis.

The fact – in the sense of the logic of the situation – is this: you cannot derive morality from the objective world. Morality is values, and values, categorically, are outside the province of science. Without morality – values – no meaning can be extracted from sense data. The meaning of the term ‘the President of the United States of America’ is not objectively determinable. Pure science cannot even discriminate between the respective values of babies and bathwater. These determinations reside in us, and in us alone.

There is, then, no objective way to choose, from among different ways of seeing the world, the one that is ‘real’, since what is real cannot be separated from who is experiencing it, and where. In fact, objectively speaking, there’s no way to choose between one thing and another, ever. Different cultures are not just fanciful ways of seeing what is supposedly a ‘flat’, value-free, objective world. No, they constitute different, agreed realities that have been painfully hammered out over generations, eons, to explain and handle the world we live in.

Each cultural reality is valid on its own terms. Each is good – a word about which science has nothing to say whatever. And so it is that we all claim our own and our group’s view is the best, and hence the most real, not because it’s objective but, on the contrary, because that is exactly how it feels. In the past we simply justified this feeling of rightness by declaring that ‘God is on our side’. Today we justify that same sense of superiority by saying ‘science is on our side’ – without realizing that our precious doctrine of objectivity undercuts everything, including us.

But if we abandon this dangerous doctrine aren’t we then saying that there isn’t anything ‘out there’; that we’re simply making it all up?

Not in the sense of imagining it, no. There is an encounter with data, but the data cannot be distinguished apart from our experience of them – the two are one. We infer the existence of a world, and of ourselves, from this ever present stream of experience – a continuous process of creation occurring in us, forever in the present moment. Out of this we build up theories to explain our experience. Some of these theories stand the test of time. These are what come to be known as ‘facts’. Nevertheless, they remain theories, and about what is the real nature of the world apart from these theories we all of us must remain, forever, in the dark. Belief in ‘objective facts’ helps us in this scientific age to dispel the discomfort of this unknowing, as belief in the fact of the Devil, God and an afterlife did for previous generations.

Facts, then, are not to be considered permanent, objective structures. They are more or less fluid theories which evolve as necessity dictates. A Congolese Pygmy does not have to be a physicist to respond appropriately to gravity. He has a name for the bend in the river on which he lives, but he has no name for the river, nor needs one. He has (let’s say) a dozen necessary words for rain, but no word for snow, which lies outside his experience. For him, even more literally than for Mr. Thomas Friedman, the world is flat.

Note, what lies outside the Pygmy’s (and Mr. Friedman’s) experience has no value for him, and what has no value for him does not exist. This is extremely important for us to grasp, hypnotized as we are by the doctrine of factual objectivity (grin).
We may, from our perspective, think him (the Pygmy that is – but also perhaps Mr. Friedman) an ignorant savage, but his knowledge is sufficient to his life. You or I would perish in his situation, whereas the Pygmy thrives – as does Mr. Friedman. His interpretation of the world – the ‘facts’ which have value for him – his values, in fact – are all-of-a-piece with his environment. To that extent he is free. To that extent his interpretation of his world is truthful; and, for him, utterly factual.

But as soon as he comes into contact with people who can fly – or even just have guns - then he had better start evolving some workable theories about the larger world, or, as sure as battery chickens live in coops, he will become their slave.

Unnecessary knowledge is pedantry, but appropriate knowledge is power. Conversely, ignorance of what is appropriate is slavery – the opposite of freedom.
We in the West pride ourselves, as I say, on our ‘objectivity’. Since each of us can only believe that our own view is best, this leads us to believe that our doctrine of objectivity is the proper, the correct, the universal world view. But the cultural realities that hold Western societies together are as value-based and resistant to interference as those of Congolese Pygmies. Our command of ‘facts’ in the past mostly evolved, like that of Pygmies, through trial and error in response to our particular physical and biological circumstances. But we now and increasingly appoint specialists, duly certified by our trusted academia, to act as intermediaries between us and our environment, in every important field. Why? Because, unlike the Pygmies, our societies have grown so complicated that no-one can comprehend more than a small fraction of everything needed to run them. In the past people turned to the authority of the Church to eradicate uncertainty. Today we live in secular societies, and have put our faith in science, so we employ scientific authorities instead. But the level of faith required by us is precisely the same. We trust, implicitly, all the key figures in whom we have invested authority. We have, in a word, faith in the system, and the ‘facts’ which it supplies. We have to! We couldn’t survive without it!

And it is through these authorities, wedged between us and direct experience, that we claim objectivity! Through the mediation of experts we claim we have command of the ‘facts’ as never before! Such faith!
As of old, our faith in our system amounts, almost, to a religion. To go against established authority in any culture is to act treasonously. To go radically against the Establishment used to be called heresy, but of course this term is not psychologically respectable today, so to ‘objectify’ our rejection of deviant belief we would nowadays call it ‘delusional’. Our immediate – and extremely common - reaction to ideas which differ from our own is to pronounce those who hold them ‘mad’, where previously we would simply have branded them as ‘heretics’. The methods are as identical as the results: the erasure of other people's troublesome theories.

If an authority in a given field says that such-and-such is the case, then – unless we’re prepared to do an enormous amount of research, and then face tremendous opposition from all we try to persuade – we will accept that as the truth. And in just this way our store of ‘facts’ – the knowledge of the world we share with our group – is enlarged.

In a traditional society, knowledge (not to be confused with gossip) comes mostly from direct experience, and from our parents. In a modern society knowledge increasingly comes from mediating agencies – schools, the government, the media. We are led, even encouraged to believe that the little direct, personal experience we have is of no real value. What has value is what we are told by our authorities, who have a proper grasp of the objective world. It is, increasingly, our authorities who are in command of ‘the facts’.

Whoever controls academia, the government, and the media, therefore, controls in a very literal and complete sense our thoughts, our decisions, and our lives. It thus behooves us to know who those people are, and whether they in fact have our best interests at heart. In the immortal, though oxymoronic words of George Bush Sr., ‘Trust – but verify.’ Well, easier said than done, but to the extent that we are aware of who our authorities are we are free. To the extent that we are not aware of it, we may be becoming their unwitting slaves.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010



When I attempt an explanation of something I often find that the greater my conviction of the truth of it, the more I turn out to be saying that "A is A, because it's A". And so it is that I've just written a bunch of really obvious stuff. But no, I shan't delete it. It’s supposed to address, or partly address, the question of why we don't move even when danger seems to threaten.

Mainstream truth - the shared knowledge that holds a society together in all its many aspects - is by definition (if not by intuition) a very narrow and confined/confining thing. Like a train on the tracks, it just has to be here and only here, going in this direction and no other. Anyone who gets invited onto a mainstream radio or TV show is very much plugging into the system, getting into harness, implicitly agreeing to stay within bounds and toe the party line – choose your own metaphor. The rare occasions when radio guests leave the beaten path of consensus truth on the public airwaves inevitably cause a negative stir, and these individuals - unless, like George Carlin, they have entertainment value (a great way to broadcast unpalatable truths) - either don't get invited back, or are thereafter introduced in suitably warning tones, as "the maverick...", "the controversial...", "the iconoclastic...", "the conspiracy theorist..." so as to cue us to the properly guarded stance we should adopt to everything they say. And there's the tautology - the mainstream cannot but deal in the consensus, forever justifying it. The fringe can only occupy a marginal place in our consciousness, forever in opposition. Minorities are, by definition, few in number. Unpopularity is a necessarily small set. As I say, kind of obvious.

But obvious truths, once their outlines have been chiseled out of the rock face, give a good footing for reaching higher understandings. Here’s one: if things are going radically off the rails then the mainstream cannot provide the knowledge needed to deal with it. In a way, it must deny it, to stay true to itself. Our popularly-elected spokespeople for this or that branch of knowledge may hint at dangers, but it really isn't in their ambit to say - on German radio, say, in 1938, "Guys, this Hitler fanatic who now runs the country is a total freak, and if you've a drop of Jewish blood in your body get the hell out of here now!" These kinds of warnings can only be whispered privately, and, as we well know, will likely not be taken seriously even when the evidence of their truth is all but staring us in the face. Because by the time we, the majority, are really confronted by the truth of a radically new situation, it's altogether too late. Whatever change there is, must begin with a minority - obviously. So, equally obviously, if there's change the majority must always be behind the curve. If they were not, then we'd all be multi-millionaires for having jumped onto this or that next great thing - or having jumped off the last great thing that's now about to tank. This obviously can't and doesn't happen.

There are clear advantages in sticking with the herd, or there wouldn’t be one to stick to. The very size of the herd is its own justification. There is safety in numbers. The majority viewpoint is the tried and tested path. It has been shown to work - that so many people are riding on it is living proof of that. More tautologies. Popularity is popular.

But history is painfully punctuated - indeed, is defined - by upheavals. And an upheaval is - again, by definition - a brief period in which the majority gets stiffed. As long as things are more or less progressing without a major hitch we can say that we have a mainstream situation, and a consensus truth that mirrors it. History has nothing to say about these periods at all. To the outside observer nothing interesting is happening. Bourgeois heaven!

But then an earthquake, an invasion, a drought, a flood, a meteorite strike, a major bankruptcy, a sex scandal rocks the Establishment. The majority's comfort zone is invaded, and it makes the news - and enters the history books because those involved were caught off-guard. And even then it's not the poor, suffering majority that the news highlights, but the sons of bitches - or the heroes - who caused whatever it was to happen. A tiny minority. Sorry, but it is impossible to identify with a starving million. The faceless multitude is just that: faceless, as every journalist knows.

So I guess what I'm trying to say - light at last! - is that the inventor, the financier, the industrialist, the explorer share with Cassandra the ability to sense, or maybe imagine, the shape of a different future before others do - and to act on it. And none of the above will be able to sway the majority to their opinion until after they have made their significant move. That's what makes them all pioneers - a bit odd, a bit quirky, temperamental perhaps, eccentric certainly. In a word, not mainstream. But not glamorous, either - until and unless they become celebrities for their predictive success, and get invited on a talk show safely after the event that made them famous. Other than that they’re a damned nuisance.

And there's obvious risk in sticking your neck out. If there weren't, then more would do it, and it would be a mainstream thing. The US Patent records are packed with ideas that never got off the ground, were never accepted, but history doesn't celebrate the legions that get trodden under. It shows the narrow path that we all took after the last shakeout came to an end and the pioneers became the celebrities of the day - after first being pilloried, of course, for their crackpot beliefs. The mainstream loudly celebrates the mountains of its success. The valleys it ignores. The mainstream is, above all, optimistic.

I tried out for the role of Cassandra in 1999, when I thought Y2K would cause TEOTWAWKI*, and got roundly booed off the stage. You can't do that too often and expect to hold an audience. Besides, (and apart from my being the wrong sex) Cassandra wasn't a popular gal even when she was right. It just isn't an attractive role. Particularly for Americans, who (in the words of Robert Duval in Network) crave, above all, a "big-tittied success" (Cassandra was, I strongly suspect, flat-chested). And paradigm shifts are not lightweight furniture, to be shunted about at will. On the contrary, it's very much against our will that they work - another good reason we shun, rather than shunt, them.

One of my favorite sayings is a Roman one - "The Fates lead the willing. The unwilling they drag". The other day - finishing a 123-page doomsday report that I actually paid $36 to download - I came across a similar one, from Mongolia:

"Ride out to meet your destiny - or be consumed by the stampede of Fate."

This sort of pioneering courage strikes me as the attitude necessary for an adventurer. The authors of the report made a very telling point. They said they were not marketing fear, and urged their readers not to act out of fear, but to "follow your nose". They also quoted R. Buckminster Fuller, that great American scientist-sage, "Choose a prevailing force - and use it!" Danger and opportunity, as the Chinese observe, go hand in hand. The fear factor comes in because we think we're losing something. The truth is, we've got too used to what we know, and are hanging onto it, forgetting that this, too, was once frighteningly unfamiliar; the province of pioneers.


*The End Of The World As We Know It.

Monday, December 13, 2010


. Some may call him jaundiced. He would say realistic. I would say thought-provoking...

from The Devil’s Dictionary, compiled by Bierce over a period from 1881 to 1906, and republished by The Folio Society, London, 2003 -
Absurdity A statement of belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion.
Accident An inevitable occurrence due to the immutability of natural laws.
Actually Perhaps; possibly.
Allah The Mohametan Supreme Being, as distinguished from the Christian, Jewish, and so forth.
Bigot One who is obstinately and zealously attached to a belief that you do not entertain.
Bore A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
Boundary In political geography, an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of the other.
Christian One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor…
Compulsion The eloquence of power.
Conservative A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
Contempt The feeling of a prudent man for an enemy who is too formidable safely to be opposed.
Corporation An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
Decide [one of my favorites – PH] To succumb to the preponderance of one set of influences over another set.
Deliberation [ditto – PH] The act of examining one’s bread to determine which side it is buttered on.
Diplomacy The patriotic art of lying for one’s country.
Disabuse To present your neighbor with another and better error than the one he has deemed it advantageous to embrace.
Effect The second of two phenomena which always occur in the same order. The first, called a Cause, is said to generate the other - which is no more sensible than it would be for one who has never seen a dog except in pursuit of a rabbit to declare the rabbit the cause of the dog.
Friendship A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul.
Future That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true, and our happiness is assured.
Gravitation The tendency of all bodies to approach one another with a strength proportional to the quantity of matter they contain – the quantity of matter they contain being ascertained by the strength of their tendency to approach one another…
Impunity Wealth.
Ignoramus A person unacquainted with certain kinds of knowledge familiar to yourself, and having certain other kinds that you know nothing about.
Immoral Inexpedient… If man’s notions of right and wrong have any other basis than this… if actions have in themselves a moral character apart from and nowise dependent on their consequences – then all philosophy is a lie and reason a disorder of the mind.
Mad Affected by a high degree of intellectual independence;… at odds with the majority; in short, unusual. It is noteworthy that persons are pronounced mad by officials destitute of evidence that [they] themselves are sane.
Pray To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
Preference A sentiment, or frame of mind, induced by the erroneous belief that one thing is better than another.
Prelate A Church officer having a superior degree of holiness… One of Heaven’s aristocracy. A gentleman of God.
Present That part of eternity dividing the domain of disappointment from the realm of hope.
Proof Evidence having a shade more of plausibility than of unlikelihood. The testimony of two credible witnesses as opposed to that of one.
Saint A dead sinner, revised and edited.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Woman Scorned.

You may be wondering, like me, how Julian Assange suddenly finds himself accused of rape just after he embarrasses the Swedish, British, and American governments with his latest WikiLeaks exposees. Well you see, there's justice, and then there's revenge. Despite all the high-minded rhetoric it turns out that the latter trumps the former, at least where sex and politics are concerned -