pirate wires #58 // recalling UFOs, the invisible virus, war on nuclear meets the war on space, and america’s vanishing act
Bear with me for a minute, this one’s kind of weird.
Four years ago this Thursday, the New York Times broke one of the most incredible stories in modern history: UFOs are real, our government has secretly studied them for decades, and we have absolutely no idea what they are. The news exploded, as any child of the “truth is out there” 90s would expect, and then in less than a week the story vanished from public consciousness. At first, I found this confusing. But then, as the trend continued with each subsequent breaking UFO story, I began to find it disturbing. Here was a potentially existential threat that somehow evaded prolonged, serious focus. Why?
The global UFO discourse was and remains a kind of amnestic social phenomena, which I wrote about, along with the entire class of “damned data” we have repeatedly, for centuries, forgotten we know, in a piece called Fire in the Sky. Central to the conversation is something called an antimeme, as defined by the author Qntm in his fantastic story There is No Antimemetics Division. Imagine — if you can — “an idea with self-censoring properties.” If a thought or fact, no matter how incredible, by its nature faded from memory faster than it spread, it would effectively be invisible. I’ve been thinking a lot about invisible ideas these last few weeks, and the obvious question: how do you fight what you can’t see? How do you save what you can’t remember?
High-level, from our heroic history to our boundless future, I’m a little bit concerned America is disappearing. Nuclear power, and our journey through space, devoured by an antimeme? Meanwhile, even the details of our most known present danger seem to evade us.
Let’s talk about Variant Xi.
Nothing Nu to see here, folks. A few weeks back, Abbie Richards, a comedian, left-wing activist, and TikTok celebrity who now incredibly self-identifies as a “disinformation researcher,” updated a viral chart of “conspiracies” she previously released in 2020, just after our first, “mostly peaceful” summer of Covid.
With help from social media influencers tempted by the TikTok talking head’s obvious partisan politics — predictably including the New York Times’ Kara Swisher — the new chart went viral, reinforcing a kind of ‘trust the experts’ meme popular among the bluechecks in our press and government. But more notable than the clownish thrust of the ‘trust me’ meme was the new chart’s omission of the phrase "covid-19 made in a lab," a hypothesis previously categorized by Abbie as "a danger to yourself and others." Not "we have questions." Not even "false." This idea could literally hurt you.
A year ago, discussion of any possible lab leak at the Wuhan coronavirus factory was considered harmful. Remember — if you can — claims concerning the lab leak were censored across Facebook up until May. If clearly capable of recollecting Abbie’s previous analysis, one would naturally call into question the validity of her current opinion on dangerous ideas. Maybe some follow-up questions: where is this person getting her news, is that source of news chronically wrong, if so why? Ignorance? Malice? At the very least, we should certainly stop listening to this person. New York Times columnists should certainly stop sharing this person’s content. But beating the dead media horse is not why I’m here.
This particular piece of lab leak wrongness did, inadvertently, get me wondering — with the hypothesis reclassified by our truth arbiters as a newly-permitted subject of thought, why aren’t we thinking about it?
Why haven’t I been thinking about this?
The day after Thanksgiving, word of a new Covid-19 variant rapidly coursed social media. What we were calling “Nu” when I woke up became, by that afternoon, “Omicron.” From the top of the pandemic, the World Health Organization has named Covid variants after letters in the Greek alphabet:
“Nu,” the WHO said, was confusing. But why skip “Xi”? The problem here, we were told, was associating the virus with a popular name, which just happens to be shared by the current Chinese dictator. This is all of course a lie. “Nu” wasn’t skipped because it was confusing. The name was already in use when the confoundedly-influential WHO redacted it, which is something most people — that day — promptly forgot. The redaction of “Nu” was only initiated to soften the overtly political omission of “Xi,” on behalf of the genocidal dictator responsible, regardless of intent, for the worst pandemic in a century. Do we remember this?
Are we recollecting these facts?
Covid-19 is highly communicable, or viral, which is I guess another way of saying it’s incredibly memetic — in a biological sense. Its existence is also something we endlessly talk about, which is to say “The Virus,” as a monster we should fear, is also a memetic idea in the usual sense (spreads rapidly, and sticks). But strangely, in almost every other dimension, the virus appears to be powerfully antimemetic. Try to think back. We have forgotten more about this thing than we will ever know.
Where did Covid come from? How did the various nations of the world, including especially the nation responsible, react as the pandemic began? What did the World Health Organization recommend? How did the WHO’s relationship with China shape its approach to the virus? How did Americans think about the virus in February, 2020? People all around this country masked while jogging. We shut down beaches, we locked the elderly in homes together while they were sick. From travel restrictions to the efficacy of vaccines, every single major Covid position has diametrically switched across party lines, and almost every person responsible for Covid decisions, which have nearly all been disastrous, is still in power. Unless we’re all completely insane, none of this would be possible were we able to effectively remember.
That we’re in some sense still in danger is a thing many of us seem to understand, but the details evade us. The threat is invisible.
Old man yells at moon. For years my friends have been embroiled in a debate over the rate of technological progress — from boundless optimism to the insistence nothing meaningfully new is happening to ‘wait a minute no I think we’re good, here.’ At least, this final turn has been my sense from following the vaccine conversation. But separate from what’s new (or isn’t), entire branches of science and technology appear to be vanishing. The particulars are especially curious given our present challenges: from the search for carbon-neutral power to the question of what aspiration, if any, could possibly bring Americans together, we’re looking for answers to questions we’ve already solved.
Nuclear power exists. Space exploration exists.
But this week, with California determined to close its last nuclear power plant by 2025 — thus dramatically spiking carbon emissions while concurrently leading a national conversation on the apocalyptic danger of spiking carbon emissions — the Los Angeles Times argued eradicating nuclear power is a good thing, actually. The crux of the argument is this: shuttering the state’s last nuclear power plant with no clear path to replace the energy it produces will force California to dramatically accelerate solar and wind production, favored energy sources of the FernGully left. Here, social etiquette requires I pretend the writers of the op-ed are merely stupid rather than evil, so I’ll simply reiterate the fact that such production isn’t feasible. Won’t happen. Graphs in absolutely no way to reality.
Back in July, after Andrew Cuomo’s shuttering of the Indian Point nuclear power plant led to blackouts in New York City, I addressed our leadership’s failure to assume responsibility for its own disastrous policy. While researching the topic, I found a great, detailed look at what closing Diablo Canyon will mean for California, which Adam Stein produced for the Breakthrough Institute. In particular:
“…Diablo Canyon provides approximately 10% of the state’s energy portfolio. Despite having a very high portion of electricity from renewable sources, Diablo Canyon alone is equivalent to 27% of California's combined solar, wind, and geothermal generation using just 1/10th of the capacity. California would have to more than double the wind power capacity across the state just to make up for one nuclear power plant — and do it in just five years.”
Meanwhile, the Times offers the following incredible quote:
“[Diablo Canyon’s] closure should instead serve as an impetus for California do more to accelerate the shift to renewable energy and set a realistic course to meet the state’s target of getting 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045.”
First, again, nuclear power is carbon free. Then, with Diablo Canyon set to close by 2025, and a state target for wind fairy utopia by 2045, we’re looking at 20 years of Greta Thunberg Blackouts while California, with a gun to its head, quietly burns coal out of state. There is absolutely no doubt this policy will increase carbon emissions while decreasing grid reliability. Nuclear is safe, effective, and all of the nuclear waste our country has ever produced — in history — could fit inside a single football field. So what is really going on here?
Environmentalists don’t hate nuclear because it’s dangerous, they hate nuclear because it works. Almost religiously, the environmentalist’s belief is people should use less, do less, be less. Forget yourself. Disappear. Global warming is only regarded in so far as it seems to prove there are consequences for disturbing nature. But a world of nuclear is a world in which people produce more with less, counterintuitive but historically proven — this is the nature of technology. We don’t have to produce less. We don’t have to be less. We don’t have to clip our wings, so to speak.
Which reminds me, Bernie Sanders is back on his bullshit:
Before we address the abstract questions here, let’s first recall Bernie has voted against NASA funding throughout his entire career (1996, 2000, 2012). He doesn’t have a problem with the private space industry, which manages the cost of space far more effectively than the government. He has a problem with the concept of space exploration.
Poor people are suffering, runs his usual argument, and you want rockets to the moon? Pay your taxes, MOONBOY. Never mind the nation’s space expenditure only accounts for a fraction of a single percent of our budget, which applied directly to our present multi-trillion-dollar social welfare apparatus would change absolutely nothing, the argument that billionaire astronauts are killing poor people is incredibly popular on the far left. It also appears to be growing in popularity, which nothing better indicates than Elizabeth Warren stealing the idea from Bernie:
Warren added to the noise again this week:
The Apollo moon landing was the single greatest unifying moment in history, not only for America but the world. That so unifying a concept as man’s destiny in the stars seems to be slipping away from us is an anxiety I’ve tried to parse before. Often, I return to the remarkable classroom scene from Interstellar in which a public schoolteacher insists to a bewildered ex-pilot that the Apollo landing never happened:
America hasn’t been back to the moon in five decades. After the Space Shuttle program was dismantled, our future in the stars fell on the shoulders of, really, one man. But lately, it seems the more that man succeeds the more he’s vilified. Is a direct targeting of the private space industry next? Not only do I think that likely, the historical record is malleable now, shaped and reshaped almost daily in accordance with power. If the private industry falls, and the government again neglects to reassume its efforts, simply not returning to space could be the least of our problems. We may forget we ever went.
Stone Age poverty, but distributed equally!, and rolling blackouts in a country that once expected, almost casually, floating cities, food replicators, light-speed travel. A fusion of our political and media class, incapable of fixing anything, of doing anything, of even recalling an age in which great things were possible. I mean, these new ideas are bleak as hell. So how are they thriving?
Intuitively, most people seem to understand we’re missing something important. Even while nuclear power plants around the western world fade to dust, the concept of nuclear power is gaining popularity across all political ideologies. In terms of space, Elon was just named TIME’s person of the year. Sure, the bluecheck anti-moon crew was furious about it, but the intuition of the average person seems to draw us back to these concepts, to American greatness, really, and to the people who embody the concept. With a clear vision of a greater future now somehow difficult to grasp, and to really see, intuition — our feelings — are perhaps our last guide through the dark. Trust your gut. Things used to work. Things can still work. On some level, you know this is true.
That something has gone wrong with the world is not exactly controversial. But what, exactly? Perhaps that nagging feeling of something “off” is less a looming danger than it is a thing we’ve lost. An erosion of the soul, maybe, almost too gradual to name.
Beware the invisible danger, a virus of the mind. Variant Xi, let’s call it.
Released by accident I’m sure, but no less dangerous.
Think back, and try to be honest — have you forgotten who you are?
My theory: our collective intelligence has collapsed as a function of population size vs elected representation, broad unmanageable authority vs exploding complexity, as well as attention economics in social media.
We are much more like ants following trails of pheromones than we think. But we don’t rely on pheromones, we rely on shared models of reality, trust, and specialization.
In ancient tribes we would know from direct experience what made sense and what didn’t. We knew everyone involved in every challenge personally. Then tribes got too big for everyone to know everyone else. In kingdoms we set up a chief over all the other chiefs and stacked that tower as high as we could so we could repeat the personal association model of the tribe. Then the populations got too big, the jumps from peasant to king got too long, and a king couldn’t make decisions well enough to keep their kingdoms together. In modern times we rely on economic terror and democracy to coordinate and create those shared models. But the old model no longer meets the challenges of the day.
When the US was created geography had supreme weighting, it was understood people didn’t have enough time in their day to directly make decisions so they had to defer their voting power to a representative, that it was not logistically possible to just ask what everyone thinks, and technology was new so one person like Ben Franklin could be an expert in everything. None of that is true anymore. And our systems are still built like it is.
I think we have to radically rethink the fundamental structures of government and cooperation. I think the answers are fairly simple once you start digging into the problems. I should be able to choose who represents me whenever I want about whatever I want and limit their authority to just things they’re good at. Social media should be self governed. I should be able to vote for rules, penalties, moderators, and appeal to a jury when I feel like I’ve been wronged. And the news should be something that keeps track of how often someone is right vs wrong within a given domain so that I can look at their opinion and tell how likely it is to be true.
We don’t have any of that right now so we are all scrambling after pheromone trails that lead us back in circles and wondering why we can’t seem to get anywhere. I know self promotion is gross but I have a (free so I don’t feel quite as bad) substack called Extelligence if you’re interested where I talk about this stuff.
New subscriber, first time commenter. Nice posting.
I think part of the reason many people enjoy the likes of Elon Musk is the reason you touched upon in a previous newsletter.
Not just America, but the world lacks definitive and active leadership towards a positive goal. Just look at the CEO who looked at the shipping problems at the port in person ( who you never seem to hear about anymore, btw ). And Elon Musk is both praised and hated because of his success and his leadership… leadership that just doesn’t seem to be found anywhere in our government.