Given in front of the Alex Theatre, Glendale, California. Recorded by Rahima. Posted with permission from Mckeeby by Rahima
In the 1920s the Lost Generation came home from World War One broken, confused, and alone. These people had been born during a time when technology and scientific, rational thought had ruled all human communication, but also one where a disease was growing in response to racism and colonialism. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin stepped off the train in April, 1917 in St. Petersburg and represented this disease, feeding on the failures of modernism, and like a disease he would spread exponentially through populations of millions of people, leaving hundreds of millions dead in the wake of the ideas he carried. If the spread of democracy and scientific realism lead to massive population increases and an unprecedented change in the status of the individual against the mass state, its failures to eradicate the older medieval trappings of power was a weakness. When war exploded feeding on that weakness, the body reacted with a cancer in the very way humans transfer information. If the old modernism could kill people who rejected it by the thousands, the new ideals killed billions.
Chaos theory says to understand the large system effects look to the small. Just as Lenin was climbing from the train in St. Petersburg, Russia, a complex interplay of pathogens started brewing in a military camp in Kansas. Here I would like to step aside and demonstrate the process that converging waves of chaos would take by paraphrasing an event described in John Barry's The Great Influenza.
Camp Funston was a temporary housing facility built near the plain expansion era Fort Riley about the same time Lenin was climbing from his train in St Petersburg. The camp was not designed to permanently garrison forces. Instead, it was designed to train soldiers for combat, then release them in groups of several hundred each day for units forming in Europe. While hundreds of thousands of soldiers would train there, at no time would more than 35,000 men be present at any one time.
One concept known to military official at the time was that soldiers crammed in together for the first time tended to get each other's illnesses, and each new draft of soldiers would cause a swelling and then a reduction in sickness in the ranks of the camp. Soldiers overseas benefited from this as they and their comrades had already had a range of small illnesses by the time they arrived ready to fight, and thus had stronger immune systems amped up to their highest efficiency, ready for whatever attacked them next.
In 11 March, 1918 that all broke down in a single solider, Private Albert Martin Gitchell. Jackie Rosenhek writes in the November, 2005 edition of Doctor's Review (http://www.doctorsreview.com/history/nov05-history/) that Gitchell was a young cook who late one evening felt poorly. He awoke early the next morning still feeling unwell, helped serve breakfast to support personnel and then to soldiers leaving on the early trains for the East coast, then reported to the medics for treatment of a bad cold.
Gitchell though had no cold. The night before he had been exposed by one of the drafts coming from the West coast to a mild version of the H1N1 flu virus. The common flu bug entered his body, and in a short while made him sick. It also mutated in its struggle to survive in Gitchel's system.
The mutation was tiny. In normal flu virus the disease latches onto a host, destroys cells that will call forth a response from the body's defenses, then rides those defenses into another host. The way the body fights disease is how the virus gets access again to the outside world.
In the case of the new virus, it figured out just the right combination of attacks to trigger a massive cytokine reaction in its victims. Three Chinese scientists, Qiang Liu, and Yuan-hong Zhou of the Three Gorges First Medical College, and their colleague Zhan-qiu Yang from Wuhan University, discuss this prospect in depth in their recent article entitled "The cytokine storm of severe influenza and development of immunomodulatory therapy.", They describe that the virulence of the disease was because it figured out how to activate on a massive scale the human immune agent located in the Interleukin Six gene. The result was that the disease was met by every defense mechanism the body possessed far in excess to what was needed to fight the flu. Victims would in a day or two after exposure suffer fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, fast breathing, rapid heartbeat, and low blood pressure, seizures, headache, confusion, delirium, hallucinations, tremor, and loss of coordination. Then, they often died, but only after coughing, sneezing, and touching other humans, many of those humans showing compassion and attempting to aid the sick person.
Gitchell, ill but powering through it, had unknowingly served a thousand men bound for East coast ports. By the end of the first day, a hundred men were being treated for the flu. By the end of ten days, it was a thousand. Half would die, and millions more were in the crosshairs, death spreading out from that single military camp to visit the entire world.
Back to Lenin waiting patiently for us in the train station. Although just a man with an idea, his idea was not evolutionary, like facing one additional symptom in the flu, but revolutionary, in that it changed the entire basic way people would get along with each other in a society and would activate massive defenses against it that could be deadlier than the disease. It also played with a basic concept, that the truth is the truth, just as the flu played with the concept that a vigorous defense to disease was the best course. And it landed in a society that was weary from fighting a war against its own faults and not ready to fight a new stealth war.
The trouble was that the modern world had handed its human populations a tool to objectively tell what truth was. Prior to modernity in much or the world it was assumed that speech was based on personal subjective standards, and that the speaker's truth was not based on some string of facts, but on his or her own personal integrity. This of course did not work very well, but no one expected it to.
When I think of the modern world and its ideal of objective truth, I often think of a time when it was not that way, and in which people often knowingly swallowed less than truthful statements despite having all the evidence to know better. In 1381 taxes to pay for unsuccessful wars on the continent had resulted in a huge unpaid debt owed by commoners to the crown. Richard the Second, who had ascended the kingship of England only a few years ago, asked his prelates around his third year of rule, his thirteenth birthday, why his crown was worth so little when it was owed so much, in a comment that may have been apocryphal by our standards but which expressed a truth as it would be seen in that era, that the King wanted more money. Spurred forward there were vigorous attempts to collect the owed tax, which could be several pounds from a working commoner that earned less than three pence a day. The result was an explosion of violence from people who simply had no other option but to protest when the very capital they needed to survive with, rakes, forks, presses, and other tools, was taken in lieu of money.
From this maelstrom, which itself spread in a manner similar to the flu, arose a leader named Wat Tyler. To make this long aside longer, let me state that for a modernist, Wat Tyler is as illusive a figure as Achilles or Jesus to truly pin down. During his lifetime no words exist to testify he lived at all. He is as anonymous as any common soldier or peasant during an era before selfies and Instagram. After his death, and for nearly a hundred years, only a thousand original words would ever be written about him. We know that he likely read Piers Plowman by William Langland, and that the educated priest John Ball, who died with him in the carnage of the suppression of their revolt, probably informed his thinking. Thomas Walsingham, who lived in the next generation and was informed by the victorious nobles of Richard II's army, recorded much of what we reliably know about him in what would be called Historia Anglicana, assigned him to Lollardy that proclaimed all humans as equal based upon John Ball's concept of the original equality of Adam and Eve, but I have a great deal of problems that he was simply what Ball made from his sermons of the era, or that he was a Lollard at all.
The point of all this divergence, is that Wat lead is rebellion forward and was nearly successful, or maybe was as successful as any peasant's rebellion before the age of the AK-47, in toppling the common order and bringing forth a peasant-ruled kingdom. Certainly, if the author of A Distant Mirror, the brilliant Barbara Tuchman is to be believed, the nobles as a group facing his rebellion were certain that the world was a day from ending in a flash of violence and the coming of an anti-Christ. The end of the story was though, is a lesson in the concept of medieval truth.
The King, himself an energetic leader despite his age, and wielded like a weapon by nobles who themselves were assured of their place in society by the endless crooning of sympathetic priests working for the "universal" church, which was neither universal nor truly a church, but save that for another thousand word aside, decided to ride out and quell the rebellion. The problem was he had neither the forces nor the tactical experience to work out a plan to prevail against a rabble in arms in an open field engagement. The oldest military men at the side of the king had been raised and trained by the victors of Poitiers, and arguably knew the danger of a group of armored knights, even with greater numbers (which they did not have now), charging a hedgehog of polearms backed by the commoners and their longbows. It was a fancy style of suicide. So they advised the King, and the King listened. Do not engage in an open field battle.
The King sent a messenger to the rebels and said they were all forgiven. Some went away, but Tyler and his faction wanted it in writing. The King then met Tyler and agreed to a second meeting under parlay to iron out the details and make them legal.
Now, this is all up in the air because the winning side tells the take as they want, but Wat, despite warnings, decided that the rules of parlay were strong enough that he was protected. When two fighting men called parlay, it was protected by the church, who could excommunicate the people who broke the tradition. My big complaint about the idea that Wat was a Lollard was that no self-respecting Lollard would have gotten themselves had in this manner. John Ball did not, he fled and lived three more years, to be drawn and quartered when the dust had settled and Richard the Second did some casual housekeeping.
Proud Wat believed he was safe from the king because the king could not lie and even if he could parlay protected him, an assurance made him by the church. He had crossed the bridge to meet the King on a hill that now bears his name and was severely wounded. He was then found and decapitated.
Robbed of their leader, the rebels disbanded and the King failed to keep any of his oath bound promises. Many were killed quickly, and more died slowly as they were called to face the king and destroyed. No one, at least in that era, blamed the King. Truth, it seemed, was malleable, and the king could lie or tell the truth as he saw fit.
Back to Lenin stepping off his train. Lenin stepped into a world where the truth was defined by what you could do. An industrialist named Krupp claimed his cannon could fire eight thousand meters and hit a target reliably at that distance. Soldiers scoffed, took his cannon out, tried it, and discovered it was true. Krupp's claim was thus considered truth. Although much harder pressed, many nations had started to see the equality of humans as the normal state of human existence. While most nations made exceptions, the exceptions were slowly being peeled away.
Lenin was a follower of Marxism. Marxism came about at a time when many large nations had millions of slaves or serfs held in generational bondage, and where only a few nations had true unlimited democracy. If Marx had written in the time of Adam Smith, he would have been a genius thinker. Instead he wrote a hundred years too late for his idea. The bond of first generation capitalism, faced with the modern objective thinking, were falling apart even as he penned the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. In the hothouse of Germanic liberal thinking at the middle point of the 19th century, he and others took a mystical logic system from a man named Hegel called dialectic and played with this flawed thought environment to prove the unprovable that was barely intelligible at its best, and specious at its worse. Armed with a tool that could generate any arguments and answer you wanted that lacked rational checks and balances of truth building that the modern society had demanded, Marxism, as it was passed to Lenin, was the perfect political system in that anything could mean anything if you had the power to back up your pronouncement.
So, if Marxism was such a stick, then why should the world be worried about one of its disciples stepping off a train in war torn Russia in 1917, long after the only real reason for Marxism, to oppose slavery, was realistically past? The reason was the war itself that was rending the world and would open it up to the great flu a few years later. And it can be traced to what I call a crack in time, a place where the world changes, knows it has changed, but cannot really understand how or why.
Lets have another aside. Flash back to 14 April, 1912, and park yourself in the air about five hundred meters above the ocean at 41.731944, -49.945833, a place just southeast of St. Pierre and Miquelon in the cold Atlantic ocean. It is late at night, and you see appearing in the horizon a huge ship. It is the Titanic, at 50,000 tons displacement loaded, she was twice as large as the huge warship Iron Duke, whose hull was just starting on the slips as Titanic made its voyage. This giant ship was the considered the most luxurious transatlantic steamer, and was designed to be unsinkable in normal operations.
It may have been unsinkable, but by 15 April, 1912, it was gone, and with it more than 1,500 people, and it exposed a crack in the legend of modernism and its infallibility.
That crack was that modernism and its mode of thinking, pioneered by Aristotle and responsible for the creation of some of the world's largest and longest standing human polities, suffered from three flaws. The first was that to work, modernism required human education at an unprecedented scale. Think of vaccines. Education was the tool that vaccinated the human being from falling back on its old habits of thinking. Vaccination was not perfect, and some vaccines had side effects, and this was the issue with education.
The second issue was that modernism also required people in power to accept the rule of law and the idea of an arbiter of truth that was out of their control. Truth, in modernism, as defined as objective understanding of issues and the careful measurement of subjects resulting in a universal understanding, could not survive many exceptions to the rule and still survive. Exceptions ruined the idea of objective truth. As an aside both Marxism and the older human ideals of subjective argumentation were based on intersubjective agreement. If you agreed with another person on a subject, then that subject became truth. Nationalism and Communism depend absolutely on this concept of truth to survive in the face of rational thought.
The final weakness in modernism is that gains under the system are long term, and often require a constant reevaluation of the situation you live in to avoid being generation gapped as state of the art advances forward and ideas change in slow motion but also in sudden leaps, known to scientists and paradigm shifts, according to Thomas Kuhn and his breakthrough work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). For people who do not learn to be life-long scholars, which may be the majority of the population, then change can manifest itself in what Alvin Heidi Toffler called Future Shock (1970). While the book Future Shock offer predictions for how society will evolve, it is the underlying theory that humans in a rapidly evolving modern society are always being gapped as State of the Art (SOTA) moves forward is the most important takeaway from Toffler. Conservatism, a social movement found in modern societies, is based on the concept of moderating change to allow for society to process its effect, although true conservatism often is taken over by nationalism just as true liberalism often falls prey to communism.
So the Titanic, frozen second before side swiping an Iceberg, with engines to small for its mass, a gearing arrangement that made changing from forward movement of propellors to the reverse difficult, that lacked sufficient Ice watch and the wisdom to moderate speed in the ice as they were unsinkable and on a schedule, with a lifeboat compliment designed to transfer passengers to other ships rather than rescue each soul, lurches forward as we remove the literary brakes and a crack in time forms. The lie of modernism is not a lie of its design. Operated by perfect people, modernism is close to perfect in making each human have the best life they can have in a given situation. The issue is that when power flat out lies, they are believed because the assumption they are backed by science. The Titanic is not unsinkable. It is a sturdy design which, in the case of its sister, can survive a number of collision types. The lie is further brought to life when we consider who died on the ship. 54 first class men lived while 55 third class children died. In lifeboats where two children were counted as adults, every third class child should have lived. That is if women and children were saved first. On the Titanic in the classless modern society, only a quarter of the third class lived, while 62% of the first class as a whole survived. The first six lifeboats to launch were restricted to first class passengers. It was thirty minutes into lifeboat launch before the first third class passengers were allowed near the boats past locked gates, and by then the ship was just half and hour from its final demise.
The failure of modern society is not only written in the dead on the Titanic, which you may allow in your mind to glide to a halt as water gushed past its unsinkable plates dooming the ship and more than 65% of the lives on board, but in the discussion of the sinking after the fact. I base the numbers I offer you from the work of Titanic: Women and Children First, by Judith B. Geller (1998) which was first given to me by Dr. Robert Levy of the University of Tennessee. However I did check it against the facts presented in Archibald Gracie's book, the Truth about the Titanic (1913). Gracie, self styled a colonel despite a complete lack of military active service through his belonging to the New York Militia, where he was a junior officer most noted for shooting down and busting up labor strikes. Oddly enough, his book recounts the death of no one in steerage, although he noted the arrival to the top deck of a crowd of steerage passengers, including women, who he said were well behaved. Despite his callout, his book was a recount of the valor of the upper classes to escape a sinking ship, honor intact, as indeed Gracie did by clutching an overturned collapsible boar, surrounded by the steerage passengers he would later forget. Everyone who violated the standards of honor was a lesser race.
So Lenin, whose foot has hovered above the planking on the number three track at Finland station, touches ground in a world where the truth was a joke. First, his foot landed in Russia, whose backwards education system and backwards emperor had spent three years throwing away lives by the millions to their arch-enemy Germany. Second, it landed when the emperor had abdicated and given over government to an uncontrolled polyglot of political ideas, few with any serious testing.
It was a minute in time when the modern world could have used a rational and modern voice to end totalitarianism in Russia and set it on a path to sustainable prosperity, such as was available in the era. Instead, the old order had spent the credibility of modernism in prosecuting the war, and left only incredulity, which Lenin exploited in gaining control of the state.
One interesting sign of the failures of Marxism that can be seen in Nationalism as well, is the development of the concept of doublethink, doublespeak, and alternate facts. Just because the dialectic became the normal pattern of thinking, did not mean it was useful for anything. Trains run using the dialectic break down and fail to keep any schedule. Grain produced using dialectic agricultural science die in the soil no matter who planted them and where, from Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe or in the steppes of Russia. Dialectic lead from set question to known answer. It is into this I should talk about Harold Willens. I met Willens for the first time in California around 1995, and spoke to him a number of times afterwards, but it was Richard Parker whose 1990 Atlantic article titled "Inside the Collapsing Soviet Economy," who best outlined his experience as a modernistic American using objective standards of business in a land ruled by the dialectic thinking of Marx. Determined to help Russia dig its way out from Communism, he choose a bra factory to aid. The factory building was old, but its equipment was new, the trouble boiled down to the dialectic. Each year 2000 workers produced 22 million bras, and turned a profit by selling those bras to the ministry that supervised its work. More bras, more profits. It almost made sense.
Only women refused to buy the bras in shops. They were well made, you could repair a care engine with one. They were also uncomfortable for a soviet woman to endure for long. No factory workers wore their own bra, they used profits to buy European bras. I was later told by a friend from Russia that there was a warehouse where a billion bras were stockpiled against need. Though he said this was just a communist thing. You never new when you would need something and the state would fail to deliver, so you made a room in your apartment especially to hoard soap, canned goods, consumer products. And then you traded that on the black market. "But not bras," he said. "Or really shoes." Then he thought more, "Hell, anything factory made." Only his request prevents me from naming him here because his insight was fascinating.
The dialectic said, we need bras. A human should make bras. This is how fast they can be made. Go make bras. Then it had failed to say those bras needed to be useful. They were useful in that the Soviet press group Pravda, the reliable Fox News of Soviet Russia and its communist party, announced each year how many bras were made, and how much better that was then last year, and most important, how much better that was than before the Soviet era.
Doublespeak was a concept of the Soviet era where a person who needed to do something that required logical thought to succeed was required to generate an acceptable excuse that would work under the dialectic to explain their actions. Failure was met with admonishment and even violence. With the party and the ruling class holding the definition of truth, one had to follow that definition. The trick was that one could not succeed when following it. So double speak and double thought is the idea that a person in a society ruled by the dialectic has to form two often opposing definitions of what they are attempting to accomplish and why. One was to be offered publicly and formerly, the other not spoken of but to be the basis of successful action.
So to be successful in the era of Soviet dialectic, an intellectual had to both spend many hours trying to parse the politically correct terminology of his or her field, and then on their own, with little or no support from tradition, had to build an internal and often opposite set of ideas to be practically successful. Although this is not unheard of in rational positivism based modern societies, it is an operational condition of nearly all Communist and Nationalist nations, and can be seen by comparing news from the two systems and open democracies and meritocracies. Very recently these values of alternate (counter-factual) truth dedicated to supporting a political status quo have been described by myself and other as Trumpian, or revolving around the maintenance of a counterfactual but rigorous standard of truth.
It is into these systems that chaos theory raises its head. In the system ruled by the dialectic, the fact that truth, as it is expressed, is different from truth, as it is experienced, results in a fertile ground for rumors, innuendo, fear, and the exploitation of those factors. In a perfect modernist system such issues should be controlled by the rigorous application of objective truth seeking skills by the population at large, but as can be seen corruption, thirst for power, and failure of the education system can make the employment of these systems difficult. The influenza is a practical example of what happens when a host has its own defensive systems used against itself by something that gains the correct keys. So the modern system was threatened by, and often replaced by the dialectic run systems of communism, and the equally faulty systems of nationalism which use irrational fear and hatred as a means of creating group think and tightening the reigns of power by a few. The classical examples of the broken objective based systems succumbing to the disease that infects them is the communist revolution that started in 1917 and the national socialist revolution that started in Europe in the 1920s. An example of the system in mid fight is best seen in the United States with the election of a nationalistic racist president in Donald Trump, with the defense mechanisms against such events being shattered where power groups had in essence destroyed the machinery of objective thought, such as what happened with the Republican party and its move away from science-based thinking in the 1990s, and by the religious groups in American politics adopting greater reliance on racism and so called culture wars to drive adherence to sect above and beyond the very positive messages at the core of many messianic religions, which includes all of the religions of the book, along with most forms of eastern religion extant today.
And this is a driver of a creative backlash. In my personal art of writing, I have attached three concepts to my artistic expression. Biomythography, or the use of the casual attitudes of the ruling classes and totalitarianism in art that teaches the opposite values. Metafiction, which is the process of informing the reader of the speculative nature of their work and allowing the reader to not only look inside at the work from afar, but to embed themselves in the work where concepts of reality and fiction blur was the lines between reader and story teller blur. And the use of hypernarrative, which is the idea that the writer can embed shorthand information and so called "Easter Eggs" into their work that can lead the reader from the first document out into the main world, where it is possible to have an extended conversation on many aspects of the creative work in many settings. Name dropping, when the drop is not fully and honestly described, is a means of created a virtual hyperlink, since it can result in the reader extending their understanding past a single work of fiction. All of these tools are collectively reactions to the fight between the imperfect perfection of modernism, and the perfect imperfection of dialectical and authoritarian systems of knowing.
Geller, J. (1998). Titanic: Women and Children First. Norton.
Gracie, A. (1913). The Truth About the Titanic. M. Kennerley
Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
Liu, Q., Zhou, Y., and Yang, Z. (2016). "The cytokine storm of severe influenza and development of immunomodulatory therapy". In Cellular & Molecular Immunology. Jan; 13 (1): 3-10.
Parker, R. (1990). Inside the Collapsing Soviet Economy. The Atlantic. June 1990 Issue. Online: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1990/06/inside-the-collapsing-soviet-economy/303870/
Rosenhek, J. (2005) The so-called "Spanish" flu. Doctor's Review. Online: http://www.doctorsreview.com/history/nov05-history/
Toffler, A. and Toffler, E. (1970). Future Shock. Random House.
Tuchman, B. (1979). A distant mirror: the calamitous 14th century. New York, Ballantine
Walsingham, T. (c.1400) Historia Anglicana. Presented in a Cambridge University Press edition, Nov 15, 2012.
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