Thursday, May 26, 2022

When I went Galt

      When I went Galt


      When I was in graduate school at Berkeley, one of my colleagues was Matthew Weiner. Like me, he had a scraggly beard. Like me, he wore hippy-dippy Birkenstock sandals. And let’s not forget the tie-dye T-shirts and the rainbow suspenders. But unlike me, he signed up for the IDA; the Institute for Defense Analysis. That is, he was a spook-in-training. He told me that the IDA was the most liberal of the spook shops; but I didn’t buy it.

       Maybe I’m blowing his cover by mentioning this. I doubt it, it was all in the open. And in any case, fukkit. And what’s more, fukkim. Freakin’ sell-out!

       One day he approached me. How would I like to give a lecture, about my four-valued paradox logic, at the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory? I said no. He shrugged; it’s my loss.

       But I didn’t think so. Here was my reasoning: if I give that lecture, then what’s the best-case scenario? The bomb-makers get interested, they study my graduate thesis, and then they incorporate my work into a weapon of mass destruction. And for that they hire me, and pay me top dollar too; but there’s a downside.

       For according to the Law of the Excluded Middle, either my brain-child, thus weaponized, gets used... or it does not. You’ll grant that? And if it got used, then I personally would be involved in a deed of apocalyptic horror and evil; and in that case it would have been better if I had never been born.  Whereas if it did not get used, then my thought and labor would moulder in some missile silo, achieving nothing but the negative task of ‘deterrence’; and it would be as if I had never been born.

       And so I calculated that Livermore Lab was offering me a no-win deal. Either it would be better that I had never been born, or it would be as if I had never been born. If that’s not a Faustian bargain, then what is? Either an enormous negative return on my investment of time and thought and devotion, or a flat zero return; I figured that there was no way to profit from so Satanic an offer, so I turned it down. There was some shit that I would not eat.

       My wife Sherri said she’s proud of me for that, which is nice, but pride doesn’t pay the bills. What’s worse, I feel unfulfilled. Lorn of destiny. Diamond logic is good stuff, solid work with real uses; really it ought to be in computer chips all over the world, but it is not, because I refused to adapt it to the task of death, destruction, terror and domination. (A.k.a. “defense”.)

       I have been harshly punished for my moralistic pride; it has condemned me to a life without traction. Stagnant income for decades, no influence, obscure, ignored. Take that, Nat! How do you like your ‘integrity’, Mister Nobody? For what profit it a man to save his own soul but lose the world?

       My personal tragedy is trivial, but many others share it. Multiply my underachievement by millions of others in the same position as mine. Result; decades of national stagnation. That’s what happens when enough people go Galt.

       ‘Going Galt’ is perhaps a misnomer; for though my strike was based upon rational self-interest, it was enlightened self-interest; not very Randian. Perhaps you could instead say that I (and many others) ‘walked away from Omelas’.



       I met Matthew Weiner again, years later. It was during the first Gulf War; you know, the one which didn’t get Saddam Hussein, but did convince bin Laden that the USA is the Great Satan. I was walking through the U.C.Berkeley campus, which I hadn’t visited for years, and suddenly I was face to face with him. We stopped and looked each other over. The junior spook still had a scraggly beard, and a tie-dye T-shirt, and clamdigger shorts, and rainbow suspenders, and Birkenstock sandals. I was clean-shaven, and was wearing a black shirt, black jacket, long black pants, black belt, black socks, and black leather shoes. I looked like an undertaker, for indeed I was consciously in mourning.


       I sometimes thought about Matthew Weiner towards the end of the Bush Jr. years. I hear that the spooks were furious about Plame, and none too happy about being ordered to fit the facts to the policy. I’ve had sucky bosses too, but none of mine ever insisted that two plus two equals anything other than four.


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