The Law of the Land & the Lie of the Free Lunch
A corrupted economics provides us with a false model of human reality. Its incubation as a proposal for collective living rendered inevitable what has happened to our freedoms and our futures.
Although its meaning has in modern times eclipsed the Greek, Kantian and even Christian concepts of the phrase ‘the good life’, I had not until recently truly grasped the precise resonance of the ‘good’ part in the phrase as commonly used nowadays — the ‘Good Life’, as in ‘escaping the rat race’, seeking to create a worthwhile, honest and meaningful existence in proximity to nature, generating the means of one’s own existence, et cetera, i.e. the meaning implied by the eponymous title of the 1970s BBC comedy series starring Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith. But, now I think I get it, after reading Roy Sebag’s short (no more than 15,000 words) new book called The Natural Order of Money, which got me thinking anew about where we humans are now, after three years under assault on our spirits from the global elites and the ‘leaders’ we naïvely trusted with our countries.
Back in the 1990s and 2000s, at the height of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger boom, I used to get myself into trouble with ‘progressives’ and ‘modernists’ by talking (‘nostalgically’) about my widowed grandmother’s farm when I was a child, in Cloonyquin, County Roscommon, six decades ago in the flatlands of Roscommon, in the West of Ireland, where she used to produce about 80 per cent of her family's needs — meat, vegetables, bread, milk, butter, jam, eggs — and then, when the travelling shop came around on Saturday evening, would carry out her two trays of surplus eggs and barter them for the things she couldn't generate herself. This invariably sparked great hilarity in bystanders — provoked, they implied, by the quaintness of my reminiscence — but it has always seemed to me to offer a clearcut model for a healthily functioning economy: producing as much as possible of your own needs, with sufficient surplus to barter for whatever you lack. It has also seemed obvious to me that most of the problems of the modern world emanate from our deviation from this model. So, I thought I would try to write something about ‘The Good Life' that might help to rescue the concept from its ghetto of oddity and eccentricity, where it attracts only the nostalgia of the old and the condescension of those not yet old enough to know that nostalgia is the memory of stability and sense.
Sebag's book is very taut and beautiful: his central thesis is to explain and demonstrate why gold became the 'natural money' of humanity (its adaptability and usefulness as both a measure and a reward, plus the fact that it is itself literally rooted in the natural order). He succinctly explains why gold became, and remained, and is — in efficiency and effectiveness and symbolism — irreplaceable as the natural money-substance of our species and its transactions. In presenting his argument, he constructs a model of reality that describes also the natural and stripped-down state of a functional economy, cutting through the verbiage and theorising of the academic and purchased economists that have bedevilled attempts at fundamental perception through modern times. Essentially, his model conforms to the impulse expressed in my recollections of my grandmother’s farm, being based on the production of essentials, first for the producers, and then a surplus for those across the borders of the real economy in a different land.
Sebag draws in words a circle subdivided by another, inscribing in the inner one the words ‘the real economy’, the entity that, at the centre of human self-sustaining activity, produces the essential needs of mankind — food, fuel and primary materials, all in compliance with the laws of nature, i.e. operating in coherence with the natural world. This ‘real economy’ comprises — is manned by — such as farmers, fishermen, hunters, lumberjacks, coalminers, oil drillers, turf cutters. The outer circle comprises the ‘service economy’, a secondary entity governed by the same rules. His purpose is to remind the modern reader that economic activity is governed, willy nilly, by basic natural laws. Maintaining a ‘natural’ money to anchor economic systems has been the default practice in most societies until the relatively recent past.
Nature, he argues, not man himself, makes the ultimate judgement on human behaviour in this context. Food is the bone marrow of human cooperation. Without it, humanity perishes. Next, and similarly, comes fuel. After that, the roots in nature becomes weaker, yet they are there. Every economic actor along the chain to the outer circumference of the circle remains accountable to the source, via the farmer and the other primary producers. Central to this is the role of money. Gold has long been the optimal substance for use as what Sebag calls ‘natural money’, which, in mirroring nature’s limitations, acts as a brake and safeguard against attempts to cheat the system.
In telling this story, he strips down and makes visible a model of the functioning economy that places centrally the 'productive' sector (farming, fishing, hunting, fuel-harvesting and the recovery of base materials) — subject to the iron laws of nature and necessity, but incorporating also the secondary, outer-layer economy, also highly functional for as long as it adheres to and respects the same set of natural laws that the farmer and the fisherman must obey. For example, he writes, 'a bad harvest may cause the farmer to fail to produce a crop, or geological scarcity of ore may prevent a miner from carrying out further operations.’ These rules also govern the outer economy, which produces not essentials but secondary products and services.
The ‘primary cooperators’ in the real — i.e. productive —economy are the farmers, hunters, et cetera, who ‘mediate energy sources in the form of foods from the natural world into the greater economy’. What he calls ‘the chain of temporal and energetic succession in any economy’ begins with the food producers, who act as the generators of the basics of survival and surplus. Next in this chain come the fuel producers of the economic system, such as the lumberjack and coal miner, who work ‘to harvest non-nutritive energy sources from nature which provide heat and motion’. The tertiary members within this primary network are the elemental producers such as the miner for metals: ‘The product of their activity is a tangible good which is employed as a necessary input in the preceding types of primary activity. In a simple or subsistence economy, it is conceivable that the three roles may be intertwined to such a degree that they can be carried out by one and the same person.’
All actors in an economy, either individuals or members of a cooperative system, are accountable to natural standards of measure and reward, a set of iron laws that must be respected on pain of disaster. ‘Ecological accountability’, i.e. direct answerability to the limits of nature and the natural standards of measure and reward, renders the real economy and its custodians amenable to the laws of nature. But the service economy is also answerable to these principles, albeit indirectly, because it is ultimately dependent on the harmonious operation of the real economy. Without food and fuel, the policeman becomes weak and dies; without fundamental elements, our electronic systems will not operate and the computer programmer will be unable to function. ‘Ecological accountability,’ Sebag explains, ‘expresses the fact that the cooperative system is always and everywhere tethered to the natural order and to our necessity of negotiating with it in order to produce the energy embodiments that we need. When we eat breakfast, when we start up our cars to drive to work, when we open our laptops and begin to type, we are implicitly involving ourselves in the natural order and its standard of measure and reward. We are taking in the maintenance of the land, the tilling of the soil, the sowing of the seeds, the days of rain and sun, and the long hours of harvest. The farmer is told by nature how and when his crops can be grown. We participate in this edict each time we partake of this harvest for our own purposes of activity. No service economy is self-sufficient, just as no man is an island. We cannot live without nature's reward, just as our bodies cannot survive without breathing in the oxygen that surrounds us.’
This, then, is ‘economics’, which becomes complicated in its theoretical forms by ‘virtue’ of deviation from or corruption of this fundamental model by innovations created essentially to cheat nature and usurp the means of human survival and action. These are always, he says — always — doomed to fail. And all this remains true, no matter how complex our human societies appear. Any deviation from economic accountability can only ever be temporary. Although it is often subject to amnesia within the remoter elements of the service economy, ecological accountability remains an iron law, as though written on the land.
‘This forgetting of accountability,’ he writes, ‘is only possible because the service economy possesses the ability to temporarily decouple itself from the natural order for the very reason that it lies at the periphery of its generative and degenerative cycles. The real economy, on the other hand, enjoys no such luxury, for it is dependent upon nature's commandments. What follows from ignoring this reality is an unnatural view of prosperity as something which can be mastered, determined, and distributed according to the personal desires and subjective ideals of the service economy. It is then that the relationship between the real and service economies becomes parasitic.’ In a parasitic system, he writes, the service economy demands energy embodiments (the products of human activity resulting from negotiation with the natural world) from the real economy ‘irrespective of nature's limits and cycles, thereby attempting to circumvent or transcend the natural standard which governs the success and failure of the real economy.’ Once mankind deviates from an understanding of natures cycles of generation and degeneration, it begins to stray into danger. The result of such attempted divorcing from ecological accountability ‘threatens the sustainable relationship between humanity and nature, and the symbiotic relationship between the real and service economies.’
It is obvious that what has 'gone awry' in our ‘modern’ economies is that we have, first of all, reversed the hierarchy of the productive and service economies, placing 'services' at the centre, then multiplying these far beyond the scope of our needs, and thereafter creating false moneys which have institutionalised these follies as something unexceptionable, and from there enabled spurious notions of wealth to promulgate themselves, spawning all kinds of incoherencies and absurdities that cockeyed forms of economic thinking have fooled us into taking for normalcy. False moneys — the instrument of this hubris — enable mankind to sidestep the laws of nature, chiefly because, as Sebag explains, they ‘fail to meet the most basic requirements which the natural order of money exacts from us: that money itself be an energy embodiment. If our money fails to constantly remind us of the natural order and what it requires of us, then we simply forget about ecological accountability and our collective dependence upon the farmer and upon nature.’
By reflecting the imperatives of ecological accountability at all points within the economic system, a true system of money becomes an earthing entity in a three-way process connecting it via the human to the land, and back again, and round and round. It is a carrier of the values that underpin the entire enterprise — the law of the land and the sea and the air — extending the natural imperatives from the potato field and the riverbank to the restaurant and the bank, imposing its logic on all those who handle it. ‘In this way,’ Sebag explains, ‘money anchors notions and ideals of prosperity to the objective accountability of the real economy, to the natural pulse of energy embodiments, by ensuring that the whole society measures and rewards activity relative to these dynamic cycles of generation and degeneration. A money which reflects ecological accountability ensures that when the real economy does well by cooperating with nature, the greater economy also prospers; and when the real economy does poorly, so, too, does the greater economy suffer.’
Gold, being the longest-lasting, the most energy efficient, and the rarest of the possible energy embodiments that nature bequeaths us, was through millennia the money of choice of human societies. Gold is sublimely capable of measuring and rewarding the production of energy embodiments without clashing or competing with them, enduring through time while maintaining the same weight and correspondence to larger reality. ‘Gold’, Sebag elaborates, ‘is a pure element that nature dispenses by weight in exchange for the more abundant, ephemeral, and even more necessary energy embodiments that we require for vitality and movement. The farmer and the gold miner thus share much in common, insofar as they must answer to the natural standard and to the brute facts of nature. While the gold miner is energetically dependent upon the farmer, in a society that has moved beyond subsistence, the gold which the miner harvests serves as the best measure and reward for the food which the farmer harvests.’ The software engineer can assume that he will receive food from the farmer only if he is constantly reminded of the natural order by their shared money.
In the modern economy, contrived forms of money — paper money issued by fiat, generally as debt, promotes unsustainable forms of cooperation. The modern economist fails to appreciate the dependence of human societies on the natural world, and on the farmers, miners, and other energy producers, seeing nature, as Sebag puts it, ‘as a machine to be tinkered with in order to obtain efficiencies and nominal growth.’ When money becomes thus perverted, he says, the peripheral actors thrive, and the farmer is compensated as if he were an afterthought. ‘So farmers and shepherds are persuaded into leaving their familial land to attend university and work in the City; the new generation would rather work menial office jobs than get their hands dirty in nature.’ The land, ‘which once was tilled and worked for the greater benefit of society’ is rezoned for housing, i.e. maximised profitability in the ‘service’ economy.
The Covid episode, as I have explained previously, emanated from precisely these contorted conditions, having been triggered by international governments in response to an August 2019 appeal from the world’s largest asset management agency, BlackRock, to the effect that the global economy was about to come down and required to be put on life-support. It is obvious that, in order to rescue ourselves from our present predicament, then, we need to demolish the present model and reconstruct the economy along the lines of the original prototype, placing the production of essential needs at the centre, and working outwards only in as far as each cycle of growth or expansion can be justified by its coherence and adherence to the laws governing outwards from the centre.
The central error that humanity has allowed to occur in its societies and communities, then, is to permit money to slip from forms in which it has maintained an intrinsic reflection of the limits of the natural world to one in which it provides merely a token representation of this former state. Thus, paper tokens and digital iterations of monetary amounts have rendered widespread the illusion that money has value of itself, and out of this has been generated whole global industries in the shifting and sifting of such tokens to the point where what are no more than glorified casinos have come to seem like the real economy.
The only true purpose of money remains: as a means of measure and reward, a convenient commodity/instrument to facilitate the exchange of products and services, which also offers an intrinsic reflection of the values being exchanged. Without the necessities of human existence — the foodstuffs and fuels and primary substances — gold would be an unexceptional and meaningless material. Its ‘value’ derives from its ‘affinity’ with other forms of ‘energy embodiments’, among which is it, you might say, first among equals. Once established as the natural money of humanity, of course, this purity of purpose stood to become corrupted, which indeed it was, with gold coins being ‘shaved’ to multiply the transactional value of the gold. And this procedure has been mimicked and itself multiplied in fiat money systems since the abolition of the gold standard, to the extent that an ‘economy’ today is primarily a poker table upon which what passes for ‘wealth’ is generated or destroyed in a series of three-card-tricks. To believe that money itself is the valuable thing is not merely to lose the economic plot, but to misunderstand human existence. To ‘trade’ not in things that humans need and desire, but in the tokens by which they have arranged to exchange these quantities, is to make inevitable the enormous distortions that now cripple our nations, and embolden the corrupt bodies now claiming to govern them.
Debt, in economic terms, is the expression of human desire exceeding human capacity to immediately generate human needs. In a certain light, it is a kind of ‘negative image’ of the natural process whereby the service economy is born of the surpluses produced within the real economy. The ‘spurious surplus’ represented by debt is nowadays at the core of the inversion that has taken over our economic systems, whereby debt is an ‘asset’ of the lender by virtue of being a liability of the borrower. We live, then, in a minus world, where indebtedness is the measure of ‘prosperity’. Humans have natural inclinations to seek more than we need or can afford, but in a localised, truly rational economy, subject to the laws of the land and ecological accountability, these tendencies are rigorously policed. If, any Saturday evening, my grandmother had only one tray of eggs, she would have had to do without sugar or salt for the coming week. She accepted this and lived with it. Unless this principle is reflected in the money system, it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes.
I have observed before that the process of modern ‘money creation' might be deemed a form of priestcraft — the manipulation of money systems by designated, ordained bankers, who generate power and wealth for themselves and their accomplices, often at the expense of optimum social functioning and human security. The chief mechanism of this process is a kind of ex nihilo (‘out of nothing’) desubstantiation of the symbols of exchange and wealth retention, a perversion of the human means of measuring its produce and rewarding its producers. The money system is owned and controlled by private banks, which create money/debt, thus tying each worker to a different, parallel process of enslavement which by default becomes the ‘purpose’ of his working. The virtual economy’s apparent sustainability, like that of the virtual world more generally, is illusory because its roots are in the immeasurable debt that have accumulated in the world in the course of our recent economic evolution.
These developments have been driven fundamentally by the spurious notion — much trumpeted nowadays by politicians — that ‘services (and/or information/knowledge) are the future’, as though an economy without productive elements could ever be sustainable by other means. Another trite idea — that the future will be technological, and that working people are ‘on the wrong side of history’ — a fiction based on the incoherence of fiat moneys, is supported chiefly by the strength of the numbers of those who have bought into it. Ultimately the bills will come through the digital letterbox and plop on the virtual doormat.
The biggest problem in our economic world now is that almost all those who explain what is happening have by definition a vested interest in the delusional system that places false money at the centre of everything. Thus, we are rarely permitted to see events in essential terms. By definition, economists are expert in money, but know nothing about keeping hens or making country butter. So, when they talk about ‘the markets’, they add to both the confusion and the problem: mesmerising us with jargon, but also distracting our attention from the basic connections that need to pertain between what we produce and what we expect. Journalists, bedazzled by anything smacking of ‘science’, treat these constructions as holy writ.
But economics is not a science, and never was. Nor is it an ethical programme. It is merely a lurching system of half-understanding that, to avoid disaster, needs to remain aware always of the unpredictable behaviours, uncontainable needs, irrational impulses and unquantifiable freedom of humanity. Money, properly understood, is merely a collection of counters and tokens, which fulfil a mechanical function in society, as already described. The debt problem of the contemporary West is a technocratic distortion arising from a malfunctioning of a system that was at best only crudely adapted to human needs, and far more directed at enabling a tiny self-styled ‘elite’ to cheat reality.
An ‘economic’ system plugged into a gambling casino is at the whim of the most volatile and ruthless of human emotions: fear and greed. Speculation, borrowing, lending — but also, on the other side of the line, rampant consumerism — are largely virtual activities, divorced from everyday human necessity. They have real effects in the real world, but are not themselves real in the same way. They are games played around the necessities of human existence, using the security and welfare of the entire community of real people as collateral for bets. In many ways, it is quite mad, although very little of the commentary draws attention to its insane aspects. On the contrary, the great ‘hope’ underlying much present commentary is that we will soon be able to reboot the mechanism for one more spin around the block, this time with the ‘consumers’ contained in a digital prison.
Those of us who operate in the — outer, secondary — service economy, tend to live in cities and thereby judge ourselves superior to those who get their hands dirty out in the sticks. Really, though, we are already slaves of a new kind: indentured to technologies which steal our time, creativity and imagination, and moneys that mislead us as to our security. Technology is the ‘new religion’, we hear people say, and imagine they mean in the sense that it compels us to believe in things we do not understand. But, really, it is the ‘new religion’ in that it invites us to hand our lives over to it and place our trust blindly in the outcome. The revolution of the 1960s, aside from the ‘liberal utopia’ it unleashed into Western culture, also proposed a New Beginning based on the creation of a technologically-achieved utopia, which allowed us to look upon all previous efforts at achieving freedom with condescension and pity. In parallel, the emphases of our economies moved from effort-and-reward to a process not unlike gambling, with workers offered, when the omens were good, cheap loans instead of wage-rises and money — paper or digital money, usually — treated as the ultimate commodity and repository of real value. Now, in this ‘modern’ world, the information and communication society has supplanted production as the central logic of economy and the dominant form of society, and virtually every action carried out under this dispensation seems ontologically pointless to the one performing it. In the new ‘workplace’, the worker is no longer what he was: a pivotal figure who creates something essential and leaves his mark. He is but an ant trapped in the present, without past or future. But the ultimate folly is that he is brought to believe that this condition somehow supplants that which preceded it, that in which the natural money of humanity — gold — served to ‘police’ the economic processes to ensure that they were approximately and cumulatively in harmony with the order of nature.
Every so often, in a café or restaurant in one of the great cities of the world, I have that same sensation I had on the first day in my first job — pushing paper in a railway goods office in Co Mayo nearly 50 years ago: I look around and realise that all those present, male and female, make their livings from secondary or tertiary economic activities, unproductive in any fundamental sense — you might even say parasitical on the main business of wealth creation. Yet, invariably, these people — young, well-to-do, fashionably dressed — convey an air of felt indispensability to the cultures and economies of their societies. If I were to drive 50 or 100 miles from one of these establishments and visit a roadside diner, I know I would be instantly struck by the fact that the very different clientele to be seen there — labourers, farmers, tradesmen, factory workers — have about them an air of humility, if not defeat. This is the endgame (un)reality that flows inexorably from humanity’s deviation from the iron laws of nature, and the pre-hubris replication of those laws in an organic system of money that was built to ensure fealty to reality. Those, who continue to, yes, man the real world, on the wrong side of history, are the ones facing obsolescence in a world in which the real is no longer what it says in the dictionary. The ‘parasites’ are inheriting the Earth. It is important to stress that the political divides manifesting from these circumstances are not really between old and young, traditionalists and progressives, left and right, or even, in the old sense, between metropolitans and rednecks. The divide can be tracked in terms of wealth and privilege, but the wealth is largely spurious and the privilege therefore transient. Deeper down, the divide is between those who are tied or committed to the concrete and those who have grown up thinking that the virtual is the only true kind of reality. And it is a measure of the intellectual disintegration of our cultures that it is the concrete that is being left behind, that the thinking elements of our societies appear to hold that a virtual world based on debt and babble is sustainable in the long term.
A useful division I have occasionally defined here is between the Able Men of Greek legend and the Virtual Men of the postmodern metropolis. Ostensibly, the two groups are separated by ‘education’, style and accent, but in reality they are divided by a trivial mutual resentment based on spurious notions of class and sophistication, weaponised by unseen actors into a full-blown culture war, which in reality is utterly delusional in the sense that it fails to recognise any distinctions between ’essential’ and ‘inessential‘ work — or, worse, gets these concepts back to front. In recent times, this war has crystallised linguistically to suggest it as being a political quarrel between Populism and Progressivism, but these, like their ancestors, ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’, are increasingly meaningless concepts, especially when considered against the partly occluded backdrop of what is actually unfolding in the world. In a sense, there is the basis for conflict in the fact that the Able Men are the ones who make and mend human reality on a day-to-day basis, whereas the Virtual Men are essentially, or for the most part, leeches upon this process, and indeed, in many instances, on any given day, work assiduously to undo the good that the Able Men did yesterday. Yet, almost nowhere in our culture is this reality recognised for what it means. In fact, it is the Virtual Men — those whose roles are secondary or tertiary to those of the Able Men, who are generally regarded — especially by themselves and each other — as the vital and invaluable ones.
In his 2016 book, Men Without Work: America’s invisible Crisis, Nicholas Eberstadt shows that, although unemployment in the US had been falling in what he calls the ‘gilded era’ (post WWII), there had been, simultaneously, a ‘flight from work’ by men in their prime. Even while manufacturers were finding it difficult to fill vacancies, the number of working men aged between 25 and 54 was at that stage fewer than at the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Approximately one in eight men in their prime had left the workforce altogether, and about one in six were without paid work, a trend that had been visible since the mid-1960s (and which has now recommenced after a brief period of remission in the short period of the Trump presidency). The graph of this male exodus from the workplace manifests an almost straight 45-degree upward line, disregarding of recorded booms or recessions, indicating that market demand is not the critical factor. Roughly seven million American men had — it seems of their own volition — left behind not just the idea of trading their skills and talents in the marketplace, but in many instances turned their backs on all forms of commitment and responsibility. The greater part comprised single men without parental responsibilities and boasting limited formal education, a majority of them African Americans. For every man in his prime deemed unemployed, there were three others who were neither working nor looking for work. Almost three in five were receiving at least one disability benefit, a factor that, as Eberstadt observed, though not the driver of the phenomenon, was certainly financing it.
What Eberstadt exposed was an existential rather than an economic crisis, with most of these men wasting away for an average of 2,100 hours a year in front of screens, bingeing on TV, pornography, sugar and painkillers, no longer feeling that America had a place for their humanity. These men didn’t ‘do’ civic society, religious activity or volunteerism. If 1965 work rates pertained in the US at the time of his writing, Eberstadt maintained, there would have been approximately 10 million more men with paid work than there were. He confessed to finding this baffling, in view of the fact that national wealth had, he noted, doubled since the turn of the millennium. He expressed similar incomprehension about the fact that, globalisation and deindustrialization notwithstanding, these American patterns had not afflicted other Western societies to anything like the same extent. He called it the ‘silent catastrophe’, expressing surprise and dismay at its ignoring by politicians and commentators. In the wake of the Covid episode, and in the continuing conditions wrought by sanctions against Russia arising from the Ukraine war, the malaise that Eberstadt described is now spreading throughout the West, most markedly in highly industrialised societies — Germany, for example — which are now in rapid decline.
Perhaps there is no enigma. One theory is that the root of the crisis is in a culturally constructed obsolescence of American men, ostensibly in retribution for the alleged sins of patriarchs past. America, aside from being at the cutting edge of human progress, is also at the vanguard of its downsides. In a review of Men Without Work for National Review, George Gilder, author of Sexual Suicide and men and Marriage, observed that the situation described by Eberstadt is no more nor less than the ‘supreme triumph’ of 20th-century democratic-liberalism, the outcome of a ‘massive plague of affirmative action’ and gender tokenism. This ‘strange withdrawal of men’, Gilder wrote, ‘merely reflects a massive campaign waged on every American campus, where women now account for some 60 percent of students; in every government department where gender rights enforcers lurk litigiously; in every civil rights crusade twisted into a unisex jamboree; in every judicial process from family court to the Supreme Court; and stretching from every local fire department on into the military, from Abu Graib to Camp Pendleton, from West Point to Annapolis, where women are pushed ahead at every opportunity in defiance of differences in physical prowess and mechanical aptitude. The prevailing idea is that male success is somehow illegitimate, a product of bias and conspiracy, and that in a gender-neutral environment, women would equal men in all elevated or conventionally male roles.’ Not only has the culture built by feminists conspired to insinuate that women are, aside from being women, also the ‘new men’, but the workplace has been remade by affirmative action criteria to rule out the kinds of activities that men were good at. Gilder writes of the ‘triumphant regulatory revolution that endows federal bureaucrats with the prowess to suppress any fundamental innovations and entrepreneurial disruptions that incidentally might disproportionately employ men. Better to expand the epicene bureaucracies and docile nonprofits with jobs allocated by quota. Better to teach new generations how to stop nuclear plants, carbon nanotubes, weapons, pipelines, and factories than how to use or build them.’ This culture has become entrenched as the result of a withdrawal of women from marriage and motherhood, and of men into short-term and feral sexual behaviours. ‘The chief motive for male work is the approval of women and children and a successful role as father and breadwinner’, Gilder noted. ‘Men enjoy jobs that are distinctly male and affirm them as men. Take these away and you have Eberstadt’s invisible catastrophe.’
The catastrophe might be called the loss of a mythology of manhood, or — even more fundamentally — identified as a collapse of ecological accountability, and a repudiation of the essential laws of human functioning, once read from the land where men worked to provided the essentials of human existence. While the men Eberstadt writes about are not all or even mostly white, the loss as it afflicts white men is more hopeless precisely because they, unlike other classifications, do not constitute a recognised victim category, and do not have a cultural right to complain. If we look past its superficial aspects of manipulation and destructiveness, we see in this unfolding the faint trace of green — green for envy, envy of the Able Men who built human civilisations, envy of the physique built without benefit of gyms or dumbbells, envy of the one who can make two blades of green grass grow where only one grew before. Look again, then, at the way Woke grew out of a perverted version of women’s liberation, which did its best to destroy manhood and fatherhood; look at the LGBT trivialisation of marriage, parenthood and family. look at the phenomenon of Drag Queen Story Hour, a satire of men aimed at stealing the hearts and minds of their children.
In the last few days, the Biden administration in the United States has introduced an Executive Order on Further Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through The Federal Government, which permits racial and other forms of discrimination on the basis of identified characteristics. The new law in effect permits the entire edifice of the US government to exercise discrimination on the grounds of protected characteristics of ‘underserved communities’ — i.e. the listed identifying characteristics first weaponised by Cultural Marxism. By St Patrick’s Day, every federal agency must have created an ‘agency equity team’ to ‘coordinate the implementation of equity initiatives’ and report progress to the ‘gender policy counsel’ and the White House ‘environmental justice officer’. This initiative, to be overseen by former US president, Barack Obama, is essentially a mechanism to confer benefits and privileges on everyone apart from straight, white men, who are, by virtue of being cast outside the protection of the order, the body of humanity implicitly identified as ‘the enemy’. Superficially, what we seem to be witnessing is an advanced feminisation, queering and colouring — or perhaps, more succinctly, an advanced emasculation — of the economy and public space. But this, as is clear, is misdirective. The purpose is no kind of equality, but the nurturing of mendicancy and dependency, with plunder in mind.
It is by no means coincidental that those working at the heart of the real economy are the ones with the muscles and guns. In these trends we can see moving shadows of the rationale for the attacks in 2020 by such as the Dutch government on its farmers and the Canadian government on its protesting truckers. The key factor here is not sex, ‘gender’ or orientation, but something else. Something is being targeted here, just as it has been targeted for half a century, but now with lethal intent. Straight white men are not being done down because they have testicles, anymore than the women and blacks are being elevated because they are female and/or dark of aspect. At play here is the first question of economic philosophy: Who owns the means of production? The qualities being targeted are strength, stamina, knowledge, autonomy and, above all, the power that derives from centrality to the real economy. What is being undermined is human sovereignty of productivity in the fundamental context of food, fuel and primary materials. The colour and sex elements serve to disguise what is really happening, implying — depending on your perspective — either some facile prejudice against white men, or a desire to impose ‘equality’ or ‘justice’ on the economic affairs of humankind. But really what is happening is an ultimate plundering of human agency and dignity, which promises the permanent disabling of the real economy, or what is left of it, and its supplanting with a managed, technologised, subsistence economy for the majority, and a First Class economy, manned essentially by slaves, for the benefit of the ‘elites’.
In an interview with Jordan Peterson in late 2022, former Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, made an intriguing observation that seemed to provide a new and perhaps more appropriate nomenclature for what I call the Virtual classes. He referred to ‘the world’s first mass aristocracy’, a phrase of Thomas Wolfe's in an essay on ‘radical chic’ in which he deconstructs a 1970s cocktail party at the Penthouse home of the ‘composer and humanitarian’, Leonard Bernstein, held to raise money ‘for the poor’. ‘Wolfe,’ Gingrich describes, ‘focuses on the Filipina maids who are serving the champagne to the rich people who are there out of noblesse oblige [and it] is one of the most devastating insights and this of course was written in the ‘70s. But what you've had is the emergence of the world's first mass aristocracy: people so well off they don't have to do anything, they don't have to know anything, so what they know is trivial, shallow and has no relationship to wisdom. In a sense it's the perfect postmodern world, it's a world in which no fact matters, no taste matters, there is no standard and you can pretend to be something by having read three totally irrelevant books and seen five totally irrelevant movies, and therefore you're clever, and cleverness has replaced wisdom and you, of course, are superior to all of these [poor, uneducated] people. You know one of the reasons that the elites dislike Trump so much is the Trump talks like a blue-collar worker.’
Wolfe’s concept of ‘the world’s first mass aristocracy’ proposes a fascinating hypothesis of a world dichotomising into those who work meaningfully and those who leech off that work for the sake of doing something rather than nothing. The emergence of this new ‘aristocracy’ — self-imagined and coronated, of course — presumes the emergence of a society in which technology and artificial intelligence will unseat the Able Man as the asserted moral author of American/Western life and reality. It looks as though the machines have levelled the moral credentials of the population, placing the white-collar class in final control, eliminating the claims not only of muscularity and sweat, but of the auto-didacticism that elevated these qualities into a mythology of manhood. The first hammer-blow to this was delivered by feminism, but the gay revolution finished it off, suggesting effeminate men as morally superior to he-men, finally denigrating the virtue of muscular work. The new mass aristocracy is hostile to the traditional people and culture of America, having declared a war that is in effect against itself, since it is primarily directed at the White population of the West. It does this, of course — unwittingly — at the prompting of the Combine/secret unknowns, who oversee human activity from the shadows up in the gods.
The ‘progressivism’ we have tended to think of as the unavoidable outcrop of modernity, has never been the point or purpose of its own unfolding, and actually is of its nature regressive, since it seeks an authoritarianism that will supervise the destruction of the values and attitudes that have enabled the West to become what it is. Its unstated purpose was to unleash a destructive ragbag of ideologies on society, with a view to total destruction of those perceived as its enemies. The unspoken part is that what is being purveyed will in the end destroy everything and everyone. Ultimately, then, the ‘mass aristocracy’ will be as redundant as virtually everyone and everything else. In a world that no longer requires human work, the secret unknowns will tolerate no aristocracy but themselves. The Virtual classes, having been useful in the process of marginalising the Able man, feel they have a legitimate expectation of being granted ‘seats on the ark’ when the moment of outright calamity (otherwise, ‘The Great Reset’) is unleashed. Alas, legitimacy has nothing to do with it, and these useful idiots will in time discover that, having dislodged the incumbent occupiers of the previous moral platform, they have already outlived their usefulness, and will vanish down the same trapdoor as their erstwhile ‘enemies’. The ‘mass aristocracy’ is shortly to discover that the secret unknowns don’t care about gays or blacks or women pretending to be men or men pretending to be women — they care only about stripping out the bothersome rights and freedoms of the human population of the West, and this chore now nears completion.
What has happened can be addressed in varying ways. You might say, for example, that the problem overall resides in the generation of excessive levels of debt, but that, though accurate, is nor a precise articulation. One iteration of the true difficulty, in accordance with the scenarios outline by Roy Sebag, might be that the outer, service economy has long ceased to obey the laws of nature and reality, and has started to steal from reality in order to continue making quick and easy profits. But something similar can be said to have occurred within the central, ‘real' economy, which has ceased to hold to the absolute line of nature’s limits, and developed other ways of seeking to cheat reality and the future. Examples of this cheating might be listed as the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the rearing of non-indigenous crops for a quick turnaround, the artificial subsidisation of unviable or damaging practices, and so forth. Something the delinquencies of both the real and service economies have in common is that their excesses and abuses have arisen mostly from obedience to diktats from above. In other words, the real, deep issue is adherence to a tech-bureaucratic globalism that refuses to recognises the natural law.
A cursory look at the entire edifice might lead one astray, for it is interesting to observe that some of the rankest excretions of the general malfunction — say, the World Economic Forum (WEF), Twitter, and indeed Big Tech more generally — which one might assume to be among the governing delinquencies and fundamental drivers of these dismal tendencies — show up not at the centre of Sebag’s circular model, as might be expected, but at the circumference. To put it another way, a closer look will confirm that the technocratic-bureaucracies manifest not at the helm, but as peripheral offshoots of a more general malaise, as though mere pimples on the backside of a gangrenous body.
And this image is most likely both accurate and instructive. What we witness is not, or not axiomatically, or first-and-foremost, a top-down process, but one driven by human desiring and defects in equal measure. It is certainly the case that the WEF is a parasitical instrument that seeks now to draw power to itself, and thereby impose on the world the ultimate consequences of drifts that have been in train for a long time. It is also true that the WEF, dating from the early 1970s, has been in existence more or less from the beginning of this process. But it is also the case that it did not begin to exercise real power until relatively recently in the deterioration of human economic interaction. Now, most certainly, though unelected and without mandate of any kind, it seeks to impose itself as some kind of absolute authority, leveraging the general deterioration of man’s circumstances to consolidate its illegitimate authority. Twitter, by the same token, though highly ‘effective’ as an instrument of intimidation and censorship, and thereby capable of providing air cover to the insurgency of the WEF, is merely piggybacking on a state of cultural and moral dilapidation that long pre-existed it. These institutions, which seem to bespeak the malaise in a highly resonant way, are merely downstream manifestations of a condition that began not with some top-down ordinance, but in the piecemeal liberty-taking of regular people seeking to obtain a quick and lucrative result from processes that, of their nature, remain subject to such manipulation only on a short-term basis. In short, the problem is an old one: the pursuit of the free lunch. To put it more succinctly: phenomena like Big Tech and Big Technoc are excretions of human weakness left unchecked: the capitulation to temptation when presented with a short-cut that seems to involve only a venial breach of the law, but which, over time, results in the destruction of human husbandry and its natural order.
I seek not to exculpate the emerging instruments of top-down tyranny, but to suggest that what arises from a more general failing of humanity may prove amenable to a radical reversal of the same trends. Big Tech and Big Technoc are, in a sense, manifestations of human grasping and underhandedness. Yes, these bodies have become not merely parasitical, but actively predatory, and that is certainly a new and bigger problem. But the deep issue has to do with surrendered sovereignty: having ceased to value it, we awoke to discover it stolen.
Although many of the controllers who emerged from the service economy hide behind concepts of environmental harmony and ethicality in order to press their destructive agendas, they are utterly out of sync and tune — often to the extent of outright hypocrisy — with the concept of ecological accountability. We see this in the ways the motherWEFfers fly into Davos in hundreds of private jets, to preach green probity to the world, demanding that the people ‘eat ze bugs’ while struggling to speak through mouthfuls of prime steak. Though they affect to promote a planet-friendly philosophy, their personal behaviour (which they claim is offset by the gains of their deliberations and interventions!) bespeaks their true disposition, which is precisely demonstrated in their attitude to farmers and farming: they want to destroy them and acquire their land for a steal.
There is something stark and fundamental here that we may miss because of the effects of the corruption and chaos-making wrought by the very circumstances we ought, long ago, to have tumbled to. It is that almost everything bad that is happening in the world has to do with this urge or tendency to cheat, to skim off, this incessant pulling towards grift and graft that infects our culture now. This is true of economics, but also of inter-racial relationships, intimate relationships, relationships between the powerful and disempowered, and so forth (though not by the perverted descriptions of Cultural Marxism). We might, without incurring undue controversy, pronounce that these drifts are at the heart of the events that have transfixed and traumatised us for the past three years: the hubristic assumptions of the ‘elites’ that they had the right to place our lives on ice; the attendant sequestration of freedoms; the suspension of democracy; the attacks on sovereignty of innumerable kinds; the democide of the old for the part purpose of terror propaganda; the corruption of the public conversation; the warping of the visages and demeanours of public ‘servants’, transforming overnight into tyrants; the mobilisation of former police forces into stormtroopers on behalf of the paper money hoarders; the faces of judges implacable before entreaty, their robes inflated by bulges of fake money; et cetera.
In the lead-up to these events we can, with hindsight, observe the drifts that led inexorably to the present moment: the fatuous belief in gratuitous expansion at both the economic and political levels — bigger stores, farms and political ‘communities’; the denigration and consequent demotion of manual work, the elevation of the service economy to the status of exalted virtue, encapsulated in the term ‘white collar’; the consequent unleashing and apprehension of consumerist frenzy as though it were something valuable in itself (Lotto, the January sales fever, Black Friday et cetera); globalism with all its attendant evils; secular-atheism and its denial of the sacred; the toleration of secret societies; the bureaucratisation of societies to the point of cultural and economic sclerosis; the gratuitous generation by social welfare of mendicant underclasses living far from conditions of poverty but in unearned comfort and expectation; the unleashing of untrammelled mass movements of people in search of an illusory prosperity — an imported underclass to match the indigenous one; the prioritising of the needs of corporations (as for example in the use of water and electricity by data centres) over those of human beings; the bogus coherence attributed to global outcomes such as Irish supermarket shelves being daily crammed with German briquettes and Polish potatoes, while our bogs sprout tumbleweed and our farms are colonised by nettles and ragwort; and so forth.
All this is falsity, not merely in ethical terms, but in the offence it offers to practicality and logic. Not every element of our economics is wholly bogus, but, contemplated cumulatively, it amounts to a false model of human reality. Its incubation as a proposal for collective living rendered inevitable what has been happening to us, to our freedom and our futures. It has raised up, as though a boil on the arse of the world, the WEF, with its incarnation of every form of ugliness imaginable: ugly thinking, ugly faces, ugly accents and sentences, grotesque hypocrisy, avarice, power-greed and hubris.
The natural order places the production of essentials at the centre of human endeavour, and facilitates the generation of ancillary functions and transactions on the basis of created surplus of such essentials. It is obvious that what has 'gone awry' is that we have, first of all, reversed these entities, placing 'services' at the centre, multiplying these far beyond the scope of our needs, and thereafter creating false moneys which have institutionalised these follies as something unexceptionable, and enabled spurious notions of wealth to promulgate themselves, spawning all kinds of incoherencies and absurdities that completely cockeyed forms of economic thinking have enabled us to take for normalcy, and from there delivered us to our present state of kakocracy — government by the worst among us. We ought not be so surprised.
John Waters Unchained is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.