Welcome to Ruminations! A writing exercise combining various present hobbies (cigars and rum) along side that which keeps me intellectually exercised, philosophy. Somewhere on your screen is a MENU. The menu consists of categories and articles under them. You can use these to navigate to articles of interest. In the interest of convenience however, I present here a list of the categories as links you can use. If you click on a link you will see all the articles under that category. They are always arranged in reverse date order (latest on top). Some articles are multi-part. If you see a “part II” scroll a bit further down to find the part I.
A note about advertising. Ruminations is not a free WordPress account. I let WordPress layer ads into my blog posts hoping some income would offset the cost of this account. After a year, I have received $0, so obviously there is no point to this besides cluttering the reader’s experience. The advertising is gone.
There are three marketing-rich subjects discussed here. Rums and cigars I suppose cannot be advertised even to adults. Stupid, but that’s the way our politically-correct society happens to be. But the philosophy and book reviews area is ripe for advertising. Even I link to dozens and dozens of books (all via Amazon). Why aren’t book sellers, especially of philosophy and science, selling to my readers? This does not require any sophisticated user tracking. Anyone at all who clicks on a philosophy blog page is obviously interested in philosophy! Be that as it may, you, reader, win!! No more ads!
Philosophy: Mostly metaphysics and epistemology in the English analytic tradition. The starting point is presently fleshed out in my books (presently 3 in number) described in this philosophy subcategory my books.
As of May 2017 a new subcategory here is my book reviews published on Amazon. I’ve reviewed many books for Amazon. These posts are the text to the reviews themselves, not Amazon links. However each review does link to the book reviewed on Amazon. The books posted here are those that, in my opinion, warranted additional philosophical commentary. This commentary is posted at the head of the article. The book reviews themselves always follow. At the end of 2019, there are as many book reviews as philosophy essays. In December 2018 another new category under Philosophy: Philosophy Guest Posts. At the end of 2018 there is only one, but I hope eventually there will be others…
Cigar Reviews:One of my present hobbies (I have had many). There are many reviews here focused mostly on affordable cigars (under $10). There are a surprising number of very excellent cigars in the single digit price range.
In the review (attached below), I said I would deal with two issues that Ellis Cose touches on but does not elaborate. The two matters are: first, a principled way to draw a line between acceptable speech and unacceptable speech in a liberal, democratic, political order, and second, how to prevent or significantly reduce garbage speech (lies, propaganda, even if technically acceptable) automatically so that it does not overwhelm true speech without having armies of censors passing judgment on every post. I’ve written about both of these points elsewhere, but not here on the blog, so I will lay out the argument.
First, a tolerant society (liberal democratic order) cannot remain stable if it tolerates intolerance. Put another way; it is illogical for a tolerant society to tolerate intolerance. Why? I begin with what a tolerant society would look like. In an entirely tolerant society, every social institution would accept every other institution, with no exceptions. This does not mean that every social group would agree with every other group. Still, disagreement is not permitted to rise to the level of intolerance of any group’s existence. Such a society would be stable. If any intolerant group arose, they and their speech would be immediately suppressed, and the group banned if for no other reason than that they are intolerant.
Now let us look at a quintessentially intolerant society. By definition, such a society cannot be a liberal democratic order. Intolerance inevitably, over the longer or shorter term, rises to the level of national power and suppresses all dissent. See below for why this is so. This society is also technically stable (though uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for dissenters) because the intolerant government can theoretically maintain its position indefinitely, having a monopoly on legal violence. Of course, there are other reasons why such a society might someday unravel, but not merely because those in power are intolerant. Nazi Germany provides a good example.
Finally, I offer modern America as an example of a mixed society. Mostly, historically a blended culture, we try to maintain civility and tolerance. We tolerate intolerance in the mistaken view that a “tolerant society” must do this. Intolerant groups arise from time to time, and over time, intolerance tends to win out politically over tolerance. Sometimes this happens quickly, and sometimes more slowly. America has survived attempts to bring down its liberal order, but we are now very close to losing it; the Supreme Court and Congress are controlled by persons representing fewer than a third of the adult population.
Why does this happen? The reasons are straightforward. First, to the intolerant, ends always justify any means, while the tolerant must strive with means constrained by fairness. Second, in any radical transition in political power, the better-organized group always wins out. The Nazis and the Communists in Germany were both intolerant, but the Nazis were better organized. The same in Russia, where the Mensheviks (relative liberals), having overthrown the Czar, were overthrown six months later by the better organized Bolsheviks. The intolerant are [usually] better organized because they have only one agenda (their intolerance) around which to rally, while the tolerant must deal with competing programs. Contemporary America illustrates this in the unanimity of intolerant Congressional Republicans compared to the competing demands of various liberal and quasi-liberal Democrat constituencies.
The second issue is how to filter junk (lies, propaganda) from quality material without having armies of censors on salary. Ninety years ago, Paul Otlet envisioned a global network of content consumers and creators. It was not the Internet it rested upon, but it did mimic something like the world-wide-web built on top of today’s underlying Internet architecture. Otlet’s insight concerning our issue here was this: while readers could remain anonymous, if content creators were allowed anonymity, or effectively so, one would have, well, what we have now, a global social media filled with lies.
When the American government opened the Internet to commerce in the early 1990s, there was good reason to insist that every user who wishes to put something onto the net be verifiably who he or she claims to be. Social (in an online context) problems surfaced even before the net’s commercial debut. I wrote about them in the 1980s! It isn’t specifically the web or its underlying architecture that is the problem here, but the anonymity of content providers in any architecture.
That is all I’m going to say here. Other than missing these two points, the Ellis Cose book is an excellent read.
An excellent review of the U.S. constitution’s first amendment, its motivation, limitations, problems, and how its interpretation has varied. No one should be surprised that things have changed. The free speech debate (not to mention religious freedom also mentioned in the amendment) is considerably different today than it was in the past when the U.S. government, in WWI, for example, banned any speech criticizing the war effort.
The book roughly falls into two parts or themes. In the first, Cose mainly covers literal speech and how the idea of permissible expression has changed since the writing of the first amendment down to today. Propaganda is covered here. The best counter to lies and misinformation is truthful, competing information, a mantra still believed by some. This idea, sensible at one time, is no longer valid in a world where false information reproduces itself many times more rapidly than truth. The issue turns back to the matter of what are acceptable expressions. When does a lie become a dangerous lie? Cose asks this question but never quite answers it.
In his second theme, Cose turns from speech to the structure of our political institutions, which, as it so happens, are hardly respectful of the notion that voting is political expression and so metaphorical speech. The founding fathers compromised on institutions like the electoral college and the senate (never mind restrictions on suffrage) as well as more recent efforts to limit or dilute political expression by various voter-suppression, all-or-nothing electoral college rules, and gerrymandering schemes, not to mention “Citizens United” allowing corporations to sway elections through unlimited campaign donations.
The founders thought (1) they were ensuring only the qualified become candidates, or for that matter, voters, and (2) that they blocked a “tyranny of the majority.” Instead, as things have turned out (and not all to the blame of the founders), we now have a system in which the worst can become candidates, and vicious minorities control political policy and debate.
There is an answer to the question: where to draw the line in acceptable speech freedom, at least in general terms. Cose never quite states it, and it demands a little explanation. I will address the matter in my blog. Overall this is excellent coverage of both direct and indirect free speech issues, historically and concerning our present cultural and technological environment.
Foreign Agent, a novel, is described by its author as “A surreal absurdist fantasy melding sex, espionage, and a man who cannot say no to a woman.” The purpose of this essay is to evaluate this claim. I will get to that in a moment, but first, by way of full disclosure, Mr. Rapaport and I are very close. I asked him once how Foreign Agent came about. This is what he told me.
“First there are elements of the novel that are true. I do have a blog in which I write a lot of philosophy, theology, cigar, and rum reviews, and also book reviews in the hard and soft sciences, philosophy, politics, geopolitics, and so on. Slavoj Zizek is, in fact, featured in a number of them. The blog has been active since 2014, but it has only a few dozen subscribers, and I rarely get comments on my articles (to which I do always reply), perhaps a dozen or a few more in all these years. I do not write about sex on the blog the subject seems, to me, not to fit it, but I have written a number of adult short stories and with a co-author, one other adult novel mentioned in Foreign Agent (chapter 18). Two other things are true. (1) I am good in bed, and (2) I have had a number of affairs with both married and unmarried women.
In the months leading up to the writing, I read (and reviewed for Amazon) two books, “The Perfect Weapon” by David Sanger (not added to my blog as there were no philosophical dangling questions), and “We have been Harmonized” by Kai Strittmatter. Ironically, neither book could be mentioned in Foreign Agent as both were published in 2018, after the time in which the book begins. The first is about cyber warfare of many varieties. China is not the focus of the book, but it is included as are the U.S., Russia, Iran, Israel, and North Korea.
The second book is all about China, in particular its development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technology (from street cameras and facial recognition to apps on individual cell phones) to develop the ultimate surveillance state. An official is quoted saying “we can identify the location of anyone in China in thirty minutes.” This is not quite true yet, but it clearly is the goal, and China is well on its way to it. Moreover, the Chinese are not content to perfect this capability within China. It extends also to the Chinese diaspora around the world, and ultimately (in the ideal case) to everyone on the planet.
In addition, I have, for years, puzzled over how I could use all of my reading to make some money. The blog has been useless for that purpose, and my books (four non-fiction and the pornographic novella) have sold perhaps a few dozen copies altogether since 2012 when the novella was my first (and not very professional) self-published book.
Having read these books, one morning I was joking around with my girlfriend about how we could be monitored in our homes and on our streets by any device, no matter where manufactured, containing Chinese-made chips. That would be anything from televisions and phones to our Internet-connected appliances. My joke continued by saying that since we were already bugged and monitored, I should invoice the Chinese government. I finished the conversation by telling my girlfriend “the only fantasy in all of this is that the Chinese would pay me!” I headed into the bathroom for my morning shower. It was during that shower I had an epiphany! The key to the whole novel would be that the Chinese offered to pay me for blogging book reviews! With that insight, the whole story fell together in my mind. Finishing my shower, I sat down at my laptop to write, and eighteen days later had a complete draft of Foreign Agent!
I had the luxury of communicating with Mr. Rapaport and asking questions about my analysis. I will thread his answers throughout the document where necessary.
Foreign Agent is a multi-level fantasy. First, there is the story, the basic plot about what happens to the narrator who claims (the story is written entirely in first person and mostly past tense) to be Matthew Rapaport. The story begins in December of 2017 and runs to December 2019. It begins innocently and then moves through various twists to its ultimate conclusion. More on that below.
Second, there is the element, geopolitical opinion, and politics that is the product of the original fantasy: that the Chinese (or anyone for that matter) would pay Mr. Rapaport for his opinion. Since this is what drives the plot, the process and product must be at least described and treated as though it was important. This material figures twice in the story, near the beginning and again later where Mr. Rapaport does not merely blog his opinions but expresses them directly to senior staff of the Chinese military. In both appearances, it is purely the skeleton on which the original story idea was hung.
The third is sex. This is an utterly imaginative fantasy that goes along with the Chinese paying Mr. Rapaport for his opinion, but Mr. Rapaport does not leave us merely with lurid descriptions (though there are those), the narration comprises a manual on the subject “how to pleasure women.” Like the geopolitical commentary, the sex manual appears in two manifestations, the descriptions of sex with different women who make different sexual demands, and the classes to male cadets Mr. Rapaport gives while he is in Beijing, one of the two reasons he is invited to that city. The book is written at men, a manual on how to pleasure women, but it should be read by women both to help them get off and teach them how to train their men!
Fourth, the book is a marketing device. Not only does Mr. Rapaport find a way to advertise another of his sex books, but in a final twist, we are told that the author who claims-to-be but is not Matthew Rapaport, himself a grandmaster of sex (at least with women), is only “almost” as good as the real Matthew Rapaport! The entire book is said (by fictional characters) to be a “homage to Matthew!” Is Foreign Agent an over-the-top expression of egotistical narcissism or merely a reflection of Mr. Rapaport’s sense of humor? I asked him about this and he replied: “If the book is popular, every sexually frustrated woman in one-hundred miles will be beating a path to my door!”
This being the case, I asked why he did not include other links to himself, his blog, or his email, for example. He replied that he “did not want to make connecting [to him] that easy. My blog,” he wrote, “is linked to my Amazon author page, and simply googling my name will pull up enough to find me.”
Humor abounds in this book, much of it self-deprecating. Ultimately, the book is a shaggy dog story, a long tale leading to a trivial conclusion. What makes it fun is the absurdity of the story told, nevertheless, in deadpan straightness by Mr. Rapaport who has told me: “most novels, like life, are about something. Even a pot-boiler detective novel is about solving a [fictional] crime with the detective over-coming problems, personal or otherwise. My novel is more like a game or amusement park ride. A game (monopoly or chess for example) or ride is not about anything. The fun is in the playing or the experience, otherwise having no purpose.” To see what is going on in detail it would be best if I go into some detail.
Chapter one is the fictional narrator’s bildungsroman, an introduction to Matthew Rapaport’s history. From now on I will refer to him as “the author” (without the quotes) because the history given here is utterly false as it concerns the real Matthew Rapaport. Normally this is a tacky way to introduce the main character, even in the first person. Maybe especially in the first person. But from this point, the story’s plot finds its legs quickly and assumes the reader now knows why the author is the popular figure he is. Specifically, we know why women simply invite him to bed. Not because he is some magnificent-looking hunk of man, but because he has a reputation for being a good lover!
Chapter two begins with a simple rainy day scene-setting and an accidental meeting with a woman (both bundled up in rain gear as they are outside) who surprises the author by addressing him as they pass one another. The author naturally responds, and in only a few lines of dialog, the woman, Jane, reveals that she knows quite a bit about him. On learning this, the author’s first reaction seems to be that she must be a Chinese spy. To his further surprise, she immediately confirms this, even revealing her rank in the Chinese army (the PLA or People’s Liberation Army). Notice there is no literary subtlety here, no played-out process of suspicion and subsequent discovery. The author needs Jane to be a Chinese spy to fulfill the first fantasy idea that triggered the book’s writing: that China would pay him for his opinion, so he simply establishes it in the most straightforward possible way.
Introduced in chapter two is the need for the author to register as a foreign agent, a theme that runs only through the first few chapters, but lends the book its title. Several other things are revealed in chapter two in good literary style. The omniscience of Chinese intelligence is first suggested (Jane knows everything about the author), as is the rationale for the Chinese interest (mosaic intelligence) in the author. The spy hints that there is a bigger picture of which the author is only a part.
At the end of chapter two, Jane invites the author to bed. Chapter three is the first sex scene.
The real action happens after sex, where Jane and the author solidify their agreement (he signs a contract). The chapter also introduces Chinese omnipotence. Jane’s people, it would appear, have control over the local lobby security camera system!
In Chapter four the author begins the assignment for which he is being paid. He talks about it in some detail because he wants to show he took his work seriously and that it was serious work in the sense that it consumed time and attention. Chinese omnipotence is signaled again here, as he is paid as soon as he delivers his first assignment. He never gave Jane his bank account number (omniscience), but the money just appears in his account (omnipotence)! No timecards, no two-week (or longer) delay, not even a receipt to be signed (the Russians make their spies sign receipts for cash)! More fantasy! Not only are the Chinese paying him, but they are also the best employers he has ever had!
In chapter five, now six months later, he again meets Jane. Again she invites him to bed. This becomes the only sex scene in the book with the same woman, alone, twice. The author here wants to illustrate that even the same woman can want different things at different times, all part of the sex-manual layer.
After sex, however, Jane makes a new business proposal. She wants him to begin writing in response to secret emails that require the author to install Chinese software on his laptop. This is the twist into what might be espionage. The author is not to be privy to any military secrets or other information of political or technological value, but for whatever reason, the content of this new material (he is to continue also with the old) is to be kept secret. The author is explicitly aware of the potential problem. Not the material he is to write, but the presence of Chinese military software. Would his foreign agent status (for in the intervening time he applied and received it) protect him? He has to sign more papers.
As chapter six begins the author installs the Chinese software, and soon receives his first secret email. It turns out to be a trivial commentary on an essay by Slavoj Zizek, a presently popular philosopher. The author wonders why this should be so special, but as with chapter four, he shows us that he takes the project seriously with his own commentary on the Zizek article in response to the email. Now as it happens this particular Zizek article is about sex in a psychological, social, and political context. The author chose this essay to write about because its subject comes back into play later on in the story. More months go by. The author continues with his normal work for China, and then receives another special email, a short novel. Just as he begins to look at it, two FBI agents show up at his door. He deletes the mail.
Every novel should have an antagonist. Then again there are no rules in novel writing (see “How to Read Novels Like a Professor” by Thomas Foster). These two FBI agents introduce a little uncertainty, suggesting that the author is indeed involved in espionage. They threaten to return, possibly arrest him, but events take over, and except for two later mentions, the FBI agents are only a shadow adversary. They never interfere with anything that happens subsequently. They do inform the author that Jane is really Hui Jinping, and has escaped to China. Mr. Rapaport told me that he intended, originally, to make further use of the FBI, but this proved unnecessary to the rest of the story. He left them in, however, to get a little tension into the story, and highlight the contrast between the dour-American lack of humor and the humor of the Chinese (coincidentally, just like his).
In chapter seven the secret story comes back. Like the earlier geopolitical material, the author gives us the plot of this novel within a novel, a silly and poorly written story about humans on another planet who encounter aliens. It turns out the aliens are sexually compatible with humans (though cannot reproduce with them) and as it happens so much better in bed than humans (both sexes) that their presence disrupts the previously thriving human society. The author wonders (as do the readers) why this sort of nonsense is worth secret emails, FBI intrusion, and more money than the original work. But the author here cleverly foreshadows the plot of the rest of the book. We also see the literary reason for all the geopolitics of previous chapters. The seriousness with which he responds to this silly story would make no sense without illustrating the author’s seriousness about the job generally.
More time goes by. More regular work, no further secret emails. The author is confused, a bit insecure. Then, on another walk in his neighborhood, now almost a year after meeting Jane, he meets Joan, a little older than Jane, a major in the PLA, possibly Jane’s commanding officer. Nothing of substance is discussed between them, but she does invite him to bed.
Chapter eight begins with another sex scene, but this one is different. Not just sex, but an experiment on Joan’s part, and then discovery on the author’s part that suggests the stupid sci-fi novella, but Joan refuses to explain herself. Joan has no new business to discuss. Perhaps Joan’s only aim in making contact with the author was sex?
Chapter nine sets up the rest of the book. Only two days later the author meets Joan again. There is no sex this time, but an invitation to travel to Beijing and share opinions with PLA senior staff directly. In addition, Joan tells him he is to teach a class to junior officers, the subject being “how to pleasure women”. This is yet another twist in the basic “Chinese will pay me” fantasy, but this chapter’s purpose seems to be the beginning of the fantasy’s hyper accentuation.
The chapter covers the author’s travels to Beijing. The trip’s first leg, a U.S. domestic carrier, is “a cattle car”. The next leg, a fourteen-hour flight to Hong Kong is in utter luxury! The author is treated to a pod with its own bed and mini-bar. He is served magnificent meals prepared by master chefs actually onboard the plane! He is served by two people, a young man, and a young woman. There is no sex here, in fact, the author sleeps through most of the trip thanks to a pill he is given by the young woman. More Chinese omnipotence here. The cabin crew was instructed to make sure he sleeps! The author does not imply that he is the only person on board (the cabin crew is away presumably dealing with other passengers), but he doesn’t mention the other passengers. The author here elevates the “someone will pay me” fantasy to ridiculous levels, as he is treated to something like the most expensive commercial flights on the planet.
From Hong Kong to Beijing is also all first class, but as the trip is shorter (only three hours), it is not elaborate like the prior flight. The author uses this flight to make an observation about the Chinese “one-child” policy and cultural deference to male children (the cabin crew is all young men). The plane lands in Beijing late at night and the author meets up with both Jane, Joan, and a male officer, Bojing, who is their driver. He learns Joan’s real name “Lia Zhang” and that Hui is now a major, and Lia a lieutenant colonel.
The author is whisked off not to a hotel, but to Chinese military headquarters somewhere outside of Beijing where he is briefly introduced to some high-ranking officers, though on this occasion they are not in uniform. The reason for his need to sleep on the plane, their late hours, is explained (Joan/Lia had mentioned it without elaboration). He will work with this group through the middle of the night each night he is there, and sleep through the day! This device turns out brilliantly. By having to sleep through daylight hours, the author saved himself any need to describe the sights of Beijing! Another of the author’s devices begins here. Besides Hui and Lia, the officers in the room are a woman, general Singh, and four men, all colonels. Although the men happen to outrank Hui and Lia, the woman, the general, outranks them all.
Where will the author sleep? Some military barracks? No! Following his first brief meeting with the PLA, he is taken to the most expensive hotel in all of Beijing where he has a suite replete with a built-in steam room in the bathroom (yes, this is a foreshadow)! The “pay me” fantasy reaching yet more ridiculous heights. Hui and Lia do accompany him to his room and give him a quick tour, but there is no sex. The women leave. The whole point of this chapter seems to be to hyper accentuate the absurdity of the fantasy. Mr. Rapaport tells me that as he ended one chapter he really only knew the beginning of the next. The story was self-evolving as he wrote it, absurdity piled on absurdity!
Chapter ten begins the author’s work in China. Having slept through the morning and afternoon, eaten, explored the hotel, he is whisked to HQ by Bojing. The women are not present. Interestingly, Bojing is the only male character of substance in the whole book. The author and Bojing have conversations on rides to and from HQ (they are alone in the car until chapter fourteen). More than a driver, Bojing is also the Author’s escort around the corridors of the headquarters.
Again in the conference room, there are three women and three men. This time (and from now on) all in uniform. General Singh who he has met introduces General Yuan (female), the other woman, a senior colonel, and the three men, all colonels. Again the women outrank the men. Having made introductions general Singh leaves, the interview begins. The author uses this literary space to expand upon his geopolitical and socio-cultural opinions (ironically like Zizek). Interestingly, while general Yuan becomes a character with a small subsequent role, the other woman in the room, the senior colonel, never plays a part. I asked Mr. Rapaport about this, and he told me that as the story developed, there wasn’t really room for her.
After three hours (now midnight) they break for lunch. Again the fantasy twist. In the middle of the night, there is a fabulous buffet in the next room, the most delicious Chinese food the author has ever tasted. The conversation is lively. One of the colonels (male) asks about the author’s other purpose in Beijing and jokes that there is little to say on the subject of pleasuring women. The author then delivers a quote from one of his former lovers. Mr. Rapaport has sworn to me that this is a genuine quote from a real woman he knew in the Biblical sense. In response, general Yuan says something to the colonels in Chinese. They are horrified. Something else is said. The colonels relax. The author of course does not understand any of this.
Following lunch, Bojing is again present to escort the author to the bathroom, and then to his next assignment. Here he meets again general Singh who is at first alone with him in an empty classroom. She shows the author how to work the electronic whiteboard, and activates the class which happens to be holographic avatars! Chinese technology puts an entirely virtual class in front of the author. General Singh addresses the class, tells them no subject related to sex is off the table, hands the class to the author, and leaves.
The next four hours are spent with the class lecturing and answering questions. The author uses personal stories (the real Mr. Rapaport has told me the “Larry story” is absolutely true, except that Larry was not the man’s real name, and he did not work for Mr. Rapaport but was a colleague, another software engineer). Here, besides the sex described in scenes with various women, is the other half of the sex manual. After four hours, the author is escorted by general Singh back to Bojing for the ride back to the hotel where he sleeps. Bojing tells the author what it was General Yuan said to the male officers that terrified them. Both the author and Bojing laugh heartily about it.
Chapter eleven begins with the author waking up on day three now (counting the first night’s brief meeting) in Beijing. It is early-mid-afternoon. He goes down to the gym for some exercise. Upon returning to his room, he is about to shower when of all people general Singh knocks on his door. Under her winter coat (it is December in Beijing after all) she is dressed to the nines! The author explains that he must shower, and she unhesitatingly tells him she would love to try the steam room/shower. Not only does she strip in the suite’s bedroom and jump into the bathroom, but she (of course) also invites the author to join her.
Sex comes next, but not before a little kink, and as it turns out another sexual twist, though nothing resembling the alien story. After sex, General Singh must make a few calls to delay tonight’s meeting and Bojing’s pick-up time.
In chapter twelve, Bojing tells the author that the general has never called him directly with an order before. The author responds only that “I am not at liberty to discuss this!” More geopolitics, General Singh makes a double entendre worthy of James Bond (in fact stolen from Goldfinger), and there is the next class. This is a long chapter mostly involved with the fluff of the geopolitics and sex manual. Back at the hotel, the author goes to sleep.
In Chapter thirteen it is the early afternoon of day four when the author wakes. He goes for a workout and swim where he meets the very pretty, and young, Yueliang. They chat, they meet in a hotel restaurant for lunch. Yueliang suggests dinner later, but the author explains he must work at night. She changes the suggestion to breakfast the next morning when the author returns to the hotel. At headquarters, more geopolitics, more sex class. Back at the hotel, the author breakfasts with Yueliang and of course has sex with her. Yueliang has a birthmark on her inner thigh, a crescent moon (Yueliang’s name means moon). Sex with Yueliang is not ordinary sex. There is something strange, alien, about her tongue. The reader is again reminded of the alien story! Having had this strange experience, once again the author sleeps through the day.
Chapter fourteen now awake again, to Bojing, to HQ, more questions, but a different group of officers, chaired by Senior General Gao (a woman who again outranks all the men in the room). Different questions too, this time sex culture in America. After the geopolitics, but before the class begins, a trip to the bathroom goes awry. Bojing is detained, the author opens a door to a room where couples are having sex. He recognizes Yueliang, this time sees the alien quality of her tongue, and her partner, a man with a six-inch tongue! The door closes, the author finds his way to the bathroom where Bojing catches up with him. The author is clearly in a little shock. He tries to conduct the class but has a hard time focusing and is interrupted early by General Singh who takes him back to Bojing. Hui and Lia, along with General Gao are also present. Everyone leaves except Bojing, the author, and Hui. They get into the car. Hui induces the author to drink something. He falls asleep in her affectionate embrace!
At the opening of chapter fifteen the story has been through three shifts: the first work, the second more secret work, the trip, and the first three days in Beijing, and now what? The author wakes up dreaming of James Bond. He is in some other hotel room with Hui and Lia, later a third woman joins them. He learns that he has been out for four days, factions in Chinese intelligence want him dead. His friends managed to smuggle him out of China. To where? As it happens to Bangkok.
The author is told that he is a prisoner in this hotel. He is shorn of computer and phone, told that his life in America has been erased, though his money has been transferred entirely to Thai banks. He has no way to check on his prior American identity. He is now Francis Nash, a British citizen. He is informed that if he stays put and learns Thai (the third woman’s role is to teach him. Of course she is physically appealing to the author) he will be given greater freedom. We never learn why this very strange and specific requirement is the case, but the utility of it emerges later in the story.
At this point, any normal American protagonist would reject what he has been told and risk life and limb to restore his American identity. Chapter sixteen opens with the author’s decision. He will hang around, learn Thai, and see what happens next. Besides his language teacher (they have sex eventually of course) he meets two other women, Buppha and Charanya who come to clean his room every day. Why this much cleaning should be needed I do not know. Nor does the author, and he asks about it. But these women ultimately answer to the Chinese, so every-day (for a while) it is. Of course, he has sex with them also, the first time, both together! It is here, that one of them, Charanya, slyly suggests the author write a book! He begins to consider it.
By chapter seventeen, the author has had sex with his language teacher (Anchali) twice and is having an ongoing affair with Buppha and Charanya. Most of this sex is not described. Eventually, Hui and Lia show up, have sex with him (a second menage a trois!) and they inform the author that he has successfully learned Thai and is now free to move about all of Thailand should he so desire. A few items are cleared up, in particular, the reason for the blow job by Yueliang in Chapter 13, specifically why he was chosen as the test subject (hint: see chapter eight)! After sex Hui and Lia leave him. He begins to think about the book he will write. A way to reveal what he has seen without blowing everybody’s cover.
Chapter eighteen, the author tells us, must be the last. Here he reviews the scheme he came up with to write the book without a computer, but first, he denies that he is or ever was Matthew Rapaport. What is going on here? Obviously, Matthew Rapaport exists, while the author’s American identity was destroyed in Chapter 15. Having obtained a computer (which he cannot use to write his book, see below) in Thailand, he does some searching and discovers that, indeed, every trace of his original identity has been erased. He cannot write the book as the British Francis Nash, he would be exposing himself, Hui, and Lia.
He now has a computer, and a real phone, but he knows they are bugged and cannot use them for the book. Before the work ensues, he makes arrangements with Anchali, Buppha, and Charanya (he takes them out to an elaborate dinner away from the hotel) to continue housework, and language tutoring, this time Mandarin, allowing him to continue having sex with the three women. As for writing the book, the rest of the chapter describes the process, including the involvement of another American, Harry, who has lived in Bangkok since the 1970s and is part of its criminal underworld. It is Harry who suggests Matthew Rapaport, an American author who has a blog, and has written some books and stories including pornographic ones. In short, they find a man like the author and conspire (without his even knowing) to hack his amazon account and publish the book under his name. Of course it makes sense that all references to the author throughout the book must be changed to Matthew Rapaport, and even the author’s denial that he is Matthew Rapaport at the end makes sense in a sort of perverse way.
Many differences and similarities between Francis Nash and the real Matthew Rapaport are highlighted. Both, for example, published an erotic book on Amazon. The book Nash, before he was Nash, published is gone, obliterated along with his original identity. Matthew Rapaport’s book is explicitly cited! Matthew has studied marketing 101! This is the set-up to the twist in chapters nineteen and twenty. A foreshadowing – not all is as it seems. You would think this would be the twist itself, but no. Like a good Beethoven symphony, Matthew has a grander ending in mind.
In addition to the book writing, chapter eighteen alludes to sex with the three Thai women, Hui and Lia, and also the three generals (Singh [again], Yuan, and Gao). None of this sex is described explicitly but summarized in quips. Having finished the book the chapter ends in December 2019 two years after the book begins (December 2017) with the author looking forward to 2020 (a sardonic reference to the pandemic about to hit the world).
Yet this is not the end of the book. Chapter nineteen is an epilog written by none other than (he claims) the real Matthew Rapaport who was, apparently aware of this book project in 2017 sometime after he suggested it to Jane and Joan. In this chapter, Matthew goes so far as to suggest that the book is entirely fiction (yet serving Chinese interests), except for his knowing Hui and Lia as Jane and Joan! Matthew explicitly denies that he ever knew about Chinese genetic experiments, or what was going on in China, but he did invent an original story about that very subject and shared it with Hui and Lia (Jane and Joan to him), including the idea of revealing it to the world in an erotic novel so that, when the “real thing” (Chinese genetic manipulation of sexual powers) was noticed, no one would take it seriously!
The one thing Matthew claims (by implication) is true, is his affair (nineteen years of it) with Jane and Joan! Concerning this, his last word is “…they always invited me to have sex with them. Why should I complain?” This is the book’s key line. It is the line that ties the character of Francis Nash (or whomever he was) to Matthew Rapaport.
Mr. Rapaport is not content to end here; he gives the final word (chapter twenty) to his main characters Hui and Lia (now promoted to lieutenant colonel and colonel respectively). If Matthew’s epilog seemed to cast doubt on the whole story, the two women affirm the whole book (or do they? A short quip at the end sows confusion). They readily admit that Matthew did invent a plot very similar to what was going on already in China, but that he did not know of this work. However, they claim the novel-idea, in particular an erotic novel, along with the recruitment of someone like Francis Nash to carry it out, was Matthew’s “seminal contribution” (perhaps the novel’s best pun) to the whole project!
What is going on here? The Chinese are not interested in helping Americans have better sex lives (though some will undoubtedly benefit), but rather to sow confusion and suspicion further setting Americans at one another’s throats. Matthew was joking when he suggested that revealing [what he took to be fictional] the plot to divide Americans by providing better sex than Americans themselves can manage via an erotic novel no one would take seriously would exacerbate the acrimony between sexes, and give the Chinese leverage to deny the story (just a silly novel) at the same time!
So why didn’t Hui and Lia just write the novel themselves? Matthew suggests just this (remember to him Hui and Lia [Jane and Joan] are real) in his epilog, but in this last word, the two women insist that the novel was written by the man they dubbed Francis Nash who actually witnessed that about which he reported! It is these two endings, both epilogs, that render the whole novel a shaggy dog story. In fairness to Matthew, he has told me that his favorite science fiction author of all time is Phillip K. Dick, and Dick’s novels always end with a twist that takes the reality conveyed in the bulk of the novel and turns it around on itself, suggesting it is the fantasy all along. In “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldridge” 1965, there is a double twist leaving the reader unsure of just which reality or fantasy he inhabits at the end of the story. This was (I am told) the purpose of this novel’s double epilog. Of course, Phillip K. Dick was a writer several cuts above Matthew. Matthew would be the first to agree.
Finally, a last line about the last line. I do not want to spoil the ending, but in the book’s literal last line, Lia (now a full colonel) makes an announcement that is completely ridiculous. Conceiving a genetically manipulated baby just doesn’t happen that way, and Matthew (the real author) knows this perfectly well – he was a biologist before he became a philosopher and geopolitical pundit. This declaration is the final absurdist capstone to the novel, demonstrating that no amount of reality is spared for the sake of the joke!
The novel is fully wrapped up here, no sequel is foreshadowed. Matthew, however, has told me that there is a second novel in progress in which all of the characters return. It turns out, Francis Nash (still writing as first person narrator) and the others, all have roles to play in an alien invasion of Earth! I cannot wait!
One of the points of this book is that America’s imperial decline is largely of its own making. Even well-managed empires eventually crumble (the geopolitical, technological, and political conditions that bring the empire about inevitably change leaving the empire fragile). A well-managed American empire might easily have sustained its dominance beyond McCoy’s projected end in the 2030-40 timeframe. I think Dr. McCoy would agree with me here (though the world’s center of gravity would inevitably return to Afro-Euro-Asia, the center of the globe’s landmass). Except for climate change, America might have managed it all from its peripheral position (the North-American continent) for a couple of centuries (its native geographic resources being less expensive to access) if it hadn’t, instead, stupidly squandered them. My purpose in this addendum to my book review is to review a little of that squandering.
I make no criticism of McCoy’s analysis. Looking at it from a global viewpoint, America’s power is clearly on the decline. He is a little sanguine about China which has, it is true, already eclipsed America on several important metrics, but has fragilities of its own he does not explore.
If America’s power peaked roughly from the end of WWII to the Vietnam war, it experienced a ghost peak in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. I say “ghost peak” because the objective of American foreign policy from WWII through to that collapse was that collapse! Of course, the Soviets and Americans could not but be competitors, but the singular obsession with destroying the Soviets (it’s beginning in the aftermath of WWII when Western intelligence agencies began employing ex-Nazis in large numbers as strategic advisors – see my review of Blowback by Christopher Simpson) though ultimately successful (at ridiculous cost) was unnecessary and counterproductive.
The Soviets were never, at any time in their post-WWII history, desirous of or in a real (fiscal and otherwise) position to invade Western Europe, the ostensible justification for all the expense that went into dismantling their empire. There were analysts in America’s intelligence services who understood this, but their views and reports were suppressed by superiors who much preferred the views of the Nazis who lied precisely to whip up anti-Soviet (and anti-communist in general) hysteria. Meanwhile, even in a weaker position than the U.S. and Western Europe, the Soviets did help to keep a lid on terrorist activities throughout central Asia and in great part also the Middle East.
If in the late 1970s and early 1980s we had let the Soviets dominate Afghanistan (both Carter and Reagan were so advised) there would, today, be no Al Qaida or ISIL, no attack on the World Trade Center, and so on. If you think the liberation of Eastern Europe was worth our bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan (McCoy mentions Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s secretary of state, in this context) one has only to note that half of these liberated nations are slowly (so as not to jeopardize their EU funds) turning away from liberal democracy towards proto-fascism! Our first Afghan intervention may have helped precipitate the breakup of the Soviet Union, but it isn’t clear this has been a good thing for either the U.S. or the world.
This is the first lesson American foreign policy experts (in particular intelligence operatives) never learned. Indigenous agents and partisans lie to their benefactors for their own purposes. These purposes are not usually aligned with American purposes (in fact they almost never are) other than on the single matter of defeating communists (or any socialists, American policy wonks have never learned to tell the difference) wherever they might appear. The failure to learn this lesson was in large part responsible for our subsequent involvement in Vietnam, Afghanistan (twice), Iraq (twice), Libya, and Syria.
The second lesson is even more stark. In a civil-war environment (Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq (the last two the second time around), no matter how well trained or equipped by the Americans, once U.S. forces pull out the more fanatically nationalistic (or religious) side will always quickly sweep our side away. The Korean war was fought to a standstill because American troops remained to the end, and are still there. In Vietnam, we left behind us a well-trained and equipped South Vietnamese army, but the Vietcong and North Vietnamese fought with patriotic fervor while the South’s soldiers fought for a visibly corrupt government. In 1975 the North Vietnamese made the same offer to the South’s soldiers that, thirty-five years later, ISIL made in Iraq, and ten years after that the Taliban made to soldiers fighting for the Kabul government: stand down and we’ll let you live. They all stood down.
President Biden was around (he’s older than me by fifteen years and I was around) to understand this lesson. But quite obviously (as concerns Afghanistan) he didn’t learn it. Why am I not a highly paid policy wonk? I am obviously more qualified than those who have held such positions since the late 1970s!
Nowhere was American stupidity (a result of cultural ignorance and chutzpa) more obvious than in Vietnam and Cuba. If the election of 1954 (which Eisenhower blocked) had unified Vietnam under the Communist North’s government, they would have happily been aligned (by trade) with us in a few short years (we are culturally blind to the fact that not all Communists are alike. The Vietnamese have been at odds with China for a thousand years). We threw them at China, and yet now, after all that blood and treasure, we are happily working with them notwithstanding they are still Communist.
In Cuba, Castro overthrew one of the most corrupt governments in the world at the time. Castro was not a Communist but a socialist (as noted above, Americans have never learned to tell the difference). He offered a fair price for the American-owned private companies he nationalized (based on their own tax-motivated under-reported valuations) and offered to do business with us. Eisenhower and later Kennedy spent years pillaging and murdering, employing known criminals (literally organized crime) and terrorist partisans in Cuba literally throwing Castro at the Soviets. The world’s greatest superpower has ever since (except for a brief moment under Obama) carried on with what the Economist called a “sixty-year tantrum.”
Besides costly overt and covert military and paramilitary adventures (McCoy goes to great length about these), America has wasted its power in ways directly political and economic. Before globalization, America’s power rested on a high-capacity and versatile industrial base paying its workers a living wage. By the late 1970s, the power elite (a congress captured by the very rich) realized that fostering “global free trade” would produce a much larger world economy and about this they were correct. But you cannot “free trade” with nations whose labor costs are much lower than yours without hollowing out your own industry throwing tens of thousands out of work leaving only the wealthy elite in a position to benefit from the expanding global economy. This might not have gone so badly if the elite were properly taxed to subsidize the higher wages of a domestic industrial base. Of course, this did not happen given a congress captive to their interests alone.
McCoy details many more bad foreign and domestic policy decisions serving to weaken the American Empire even before its time. Most of them (the foreign ones at least) in one way or another come down to American cultural ignorance, the naive belief that if a people want to get rid of a particular government, they must want liberal democracy in its place. I wonder if any other empire in Earth’s history ever rose to its peak while remaining so ignorant of its client’s cultures?
This is the first book in my geopolitical musings to “tell it like it is” concerning the doings of America in the geopolitical arena and places us firmly in the position of a declining empire. It is also the first book I’ve read that adds climate change to the list of external forces precipitating not only America’s decline but the rest of the world along with it. Indeed, besides myself, Dr. McCoy is the first author I’ve read who points out that the American collapse might first be economic; mitigation of environmental disaster will be unsustainable.
Dr. McCoy begins by reviewing what other empires looked like in their decline. Turning to America, he points out that we exhibit every single one of those characteristics. Historically, such declines can be seen from the viewpoint of the imperial center or in the way that client states (allies or otherwise) respond. In America’s case, all the signs are visible on both sides from increased repression at home to break-ups in long-established international alliances.
This is a nuanced look at the global situation. McCoy notes for example that America differed from other empires in that it attempted to bolster the economies and political inclusiveness of client states rather than merely exploiting them for resources. This was not done out of altruism, but rather the American empire (and the world in our time) is trade-dependent in ways prior empires never were. America’s client states increased American power by buying from (and not only selling to) America. Such an empire could only succeed if the center helped to enrich the periphery.
Alas, given much of what America has done in the world since the late 1950s (one might say beginning with Vietnam and Cuba, and never learning lessons since) has not only seen our advantages eroding but literally being thrown away (I will have more to say about this in a blog article). The amazing thing is that American hegemony (culturally if not always militarily) has taken this long to dissolve and is not yet entirely gone. China, by contrast (on which McCoy focuses as the present major player with an expanding empire), has already eclipsed America in many fields, with more to come. My only quibble with McCoy is here. China has its own kind of fragility, different from America’s, but surely inhibiting its imperial aspirations. McCoy doesn’t address these matters.
I’ll end this review by returning once more to the matter of climate change. McCoy focuses on America here, while noting some of the impacts rising temperatures (violent weather, rising seas, droughts, large-scale refugee migrations, and so on) will have on other parts of the world. But in this context, he also does not mention China whose coastal cities are subject to rising seas while its interior must suffer from all the same sorts of problems experienced in the United States. China will probably grow the world’s single biggest economy in a couple of years, but it is also a much bigger territory with far more people to feed. Mitigating climate disasters cannot be less of a drag on the Chinese economy than it is (and will become) in the United States.
In summary, a well-researched (the endnotes occupy 50% of the book) and well-written examination of the American empire. The signs of decline are everywhere. Future details cannot be known, but the general trends are unmistakable.
“An intelligence agency that relies on indigenous people for military, economic, or political intelligence, will hear what those agents think will get them the most money and material support, not the facts of the situation.”
Matthew Rapaport: Student of history
That prescient assertion is the essence of the doings of spies in general. Of course, the book is about the post-world war II allied use of German Nazis and East European Nazi collaborators as spies, provocateurs, and propagandists, the latter inside the United States! My short commentary will draw attention to two more general points.
The second world war was, so far, the largest, longest-lasting, and most insidious example of this practice, but American intelligence agencies repeated the mistake in Cuba (years of terrorist action by mobsters supported by Eisenhower and Kennedy), Vietnam, Nicaragua, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan (supporting the Mujahadin, and later against the Taliban), the second invasion of Iraq, Syria, and Libya! Korea, in 1950, is the only example I can think of where American forces were attacked unprovoked! In every other case, American policy was largely informed by the misreporting (lies) of indigenous agents! Will they never learn?
There is another lesson here, that being “the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend”. Nowhere is this more obvious than it has been in Afganistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. In most of our conflicts (against Communism or otherwise), where America ostensibly achieved its objectives, the resulting governments have hardly been democratic. All of the countries of Central Asia remain autocratic thirty years after the break up of the Soviet Union — not to mention Russia itself. In Eastern Europe, Ukraine is the sole exception. Following the Soviet collapse, Central European nations did set up democratic political institutions as they rushed to embrace the European Union. Yet, after only a few decades, the governments of Poland, Hungary, and Romania, are devolving into more autocratic forms.
Simpson covers both of these issues as they pertain to the use of Nazi agents after WWII. The lessons [should] apply more generally. The review (below) says all the rest!
Blowback is a history book. Recent history, relatively speaking, World War II and its aftermath, up to the middle of the Reagan administration in the 1980s. At the conclusion of WWII the allies ostensibly made a systematic attempt to find, arrest, and prosecute Nazis for war crimes. This was to be a shared responsibility of all the European allies in both Western and Eastern Europe. But the Western allies, mostly the U.S., Britain, and France were suspicious of Future Soviet intentions, while the Soviets were equally suspicious of ours.
How were the various allied intelligence agencies (on both sides) to deal with this? The answer, through spies! But creating a spy network from scratch takes many years. In the case of post WWII Europe, there was a ready-made cadre of experts on the disposition of Soviet forces, railroads, factories, and all manner of infrastructure, not to mention Soviet political intentions, namely the German senior intelligence officers operating on the eastern (Soviet) front. These men however, were not only Nazi party members (some since the late 1920s), but also, among them, the architects of the slaughter of millions of Western and Eastern European Jews, and just about anyone else who was not, in the German occupied territories, sufficiently (in their arbitrary view) anti-Communist!
The bulk of Simpson’s book is about the employment of these men by the intelligence agencies of the U.S.: NSA and the nascent CIA, but even before them the OSS and other agencies operating in Europe at the end of the war (the British and French employed these people also, but while mentioning them, Simpson is focused entirely on the U.S.). Besides Nazi intelligence officers, the Russian and other Slavic defectors (Ukrainians, Belorussians, and many others) fled to Western Europe or hid in the East as the Soviet army pushed the Germans back. These traitors (to the USSR) were (we argued) sources of valuable intelligence (many had personally participated in the torture and murder of men, women, and children, who were not sufficiently anti-Communist), they also served (they claimed) as command and control of partisan forces in their territories who were ready to rise up against the Soviets if only they could get enough arms and other support needed to do that job. The Americans were only too happy to provide it to the tune of tens and then hundreds of millions – what would be tens of billions today!
Simpson’s history is filled with shocking revelations. Everyone knows we imported German rocket engineers in the mid-1940s, but most do not know that the man who administered the entire Saturn-V rocket program that put Americans on the moon was the Nazi administrator of factories making German rockets with slave labor, many of whom were literally starved to death! Reveals like this pepper Simpson’s book.
All of these machinations have had consequences down through the decades. Why did the Americans do this? The excuse was that in 1945-46 we were about to go to war with the Soviet Union. The Nazi operatives we employed were telling us the Soviets were within months of rolling their tanks into Western Europe. They would know right? That’s why we employed them! None of it was true. These agents and assets were all lying to their American handlers for the sake of getting more money, equipment, and world attention! Moreover, none of the forward operational plans the Americans had for these people ever came to fruition, because there were also Nazis who defected to the Soviets and these men, thanks to their comradery with their old buddies working for the other side, had penetrated every such organization!
There were American intelligence analysts who reported (correctly) that the Soviets were exhausted, economically broken, and had no intention of invading Western Europe. These analysts were systematically marginalized and eventually driven to quit by their superiors who preferred to listen to Nazis.
Simpson identifies six distinct types of blowback stemming from our employment of Nazis. Worst of all, the pathological anti-Communism that informed U.S. policy from WWII to 1990 when the Soviet Union collapsed, the billions of dollars wasted, the politics that brought us close to nuclear war, was all based on lies!
To put it bluntly, American foreign policy was Nazified from two directions with the blessing and financial aid of America’s intelligence agencies, and often the approbation of congress! First, every president from Truman through the elder Bush received advice and briefings heavily influenced by Nazis in the direct employ of U.S. intelligence agencies. Second, the CIA (in particular) funded organizations employing thousands of East European Nazi collaborators as propagandists in the Eastern European and Russian diasporas in the U.S. (millions of people) in a largely successful effort to direct votes into the most virulently available anti-Communist foreign policy. Some of these people were among the most recognizable essayists, editorialists, book authors, and speech-makers of the 1950s and 60s in America!
Historians of the post WWII period should not miss this book!
I have read a few books now that touch on the subjects mentioned here. “Consumed” (Ben Barber) is about the corporate and technological contribution to our fraying social fabric. “The Once and Future Liberal” (Mark Lilla) is about (one might say) the Left’s contribution to alienation. “The Second Civil War” (Ronald Brownstein) talks about the “great sorting” taking place in American demographics, a phenomenon that began in the 1970s and has by now almost fully crystallized. In that book (as noted in my review), Brownstein tells us what happened but not why. One might say the point of “Alienated America” is to answer that question.
Alienated could be the centerpiece of this collection. Its author sets out to discover why Donald Trump won the Republican nomination. I can find no fault with his analysis. It is both extensively researched and subtle. Carney carefully identifies and disentangles every factor he can (he discusses many) while sedulously maintaining a neutral stance in two senses. First he does not judge these people other than to note that some (not all) of them are fundamentally racist. Second, he is careful to point out (many times) that even all the factors taken together do not explain everything. They do not, for example, explain individual exceptions (both pro and anti-Trump) found everywhere.
His conclusions concerning the importance of the church as a third-place institution in those communities where social cohesion is strong, and alienation is low is well argued and perhaps the most insightful aspect of his analysis. Money, which seems always coupled with education, is the only alternative (sometimes both are present) primary driver. Carney enumerates many interlocking formal and informal institutions (a monthly book club or weekly stick-ball game count for example), but all of them end up resting either on money or the church, the individual instution in a physical place, of whatever denomination that happens to be. Carney isn’t being theological here though he notes the teachings of the world’s great religions always point to both community strength and inclusiveness. He also knows the more fundamental reason for this social centrality is history. Churches: individual parishes, congregations, ashrams, mosques, have been performing this role, sometimes with more and sometimes less political authority, for a thousand years!
From what I can see from my interaction with the academic elite, this recognition, an active church’s positive role on community cohesion, is the book’s fundamental insight. Even so Carney is sedulously fair, recognizing that there are possible negative phases to this cohesion. Some congregations are exclusionary. Carney clearly believes this, where it happens, is not in the proper spirit of Christianity or any other world religion.
Carney never really addresses alienation on the left. I understand why his focus was on the primaries. His interest is Trump’s core, the people who voted for Trump when they could have voted for Cruz, Rubio, or Kasich. But surely this applies also to the left’s vote, in the primaries, for Sanders. There must be an alienated left. They are a part of “Alienated America” also.
Carney waves off the non-alienated vote for Trump in the general election with a “who else would republicans vote for? Hilary?” This is a cheap shot for a couple of reasons. It utterly ignores the question of alienated Democrats . Presumably, in the primaries, most of these folks voted for Sanders. Surely alienated Democrats exist, or have they all declared themselves Independent? Are their reason’s for alienation different than those of early Trump supporters? Does their preference for centralization (the left) as Carney puts it stem from differences in the conditions of their alienation? Carney says the alienated right say they are religious, but do not seem, to attend church. I suppose (but do not know) the left would deny being religious altogether. As goes being alienated, this might be the only significant difference between them. Carney doesn’t talk about it.
His wave off here is disappointing for another reason. While I get his focus was the alienated right, this being my blog, I want to note also the hypocrisy of the non-alienated Republicans who did not vote for Trump in the primaries. These people, remember, have functioning churches!
What would happen if the situation were reversed? What if Donald Trump ran as a Democrat? Would I have voted for him in my State’s primary? No, I would have voted for Clinton or Sanders (as I did). What about the general election? I would have three choices: vote for Trump, don’t vote at all (handing Trump the win: what [alienated] Democrats and Independents who didn’t like Hilary did in those States Trump needed for an Electoral college win), or vote for the Republican nominee. I would have chosen the third option. If my critics say that I have the benefit of hindsight (being 2021, not 2018), I am on record in mid-2016 noting that any of the other Republican nominees would be preferable to Trump! Well-educated (elite) Republicans might have preferred a Romney or Kasich. Still, in the end, knowing (how could an educated person not know by October 2016 that Trump was a habitual liar) what Trump was, they helped to put him in power anyway. Elite Republicans were knowingly complicit in electing a con artist.
We know that there are both left and right-wing conspiracy theorists. The alienated left’s hatred of Clinton was (and remains) as irrational as the right’s (alienated or otherwise) belief that Trump meant anything he said other than those matters connected to racism and xenophobia. If the alienated right is inherently racist, so, apparently, are the non-alienated elite! Electing a xenophobic mad man, compared to a steady, if ideologically disagreeable (Clinton), hand on the tiller of state was important to both the alienated and the non-alienated right alike! As it turns out Carney fails to draw a lesson (I know, not his purpose): disaffection on the right is the greater political power than that of the left (or Sanders would have won the Democratic nomination). To this is added the hypocrisy of the Republican elite. What gave us Trump the nominee was alienation on the right. What gave us Trump the President was the hypocrisy of the Republican elite! In the national election, the Republican elite could have chosen, as did the alienated left, not to vote at all. Instead, these non-alienated communities, suffused with so much money or religion, chose an irreligious narcissistic xenophobe; an Anti-Christ-type if ever there was one! Carney admits that Christians do not always act Christianly.
This book is about what happens when “third places” disappear from geographic communities. Mostly that part of the subject is political, not in the narrow sense of elections and political parties, but in the broadest sense of “the polis” or the people taken not merely as individuals but also in social institutions, formal (unions, rotary clubs, local civic events, the PTA, and especially churches) or informal (the corner diner, bowling leagues, book clubs, school or culturally-related events, even bars). “The family” (as in married, with children – no not the tv comedy) is intrinsically involved here. Where third-place options exist, families tend to be stronger and stronger families lend more support to their local third places. When these things disappear, people become more isolated and more alienated in the way Carney means.
The book is also about why these places disappear. Carney explores dozens of reasons from the economic (nothing simplistic here, there are many forms of economic impact on third places) and educational to the psychological, from centralization (the tendency of government at all levels to take control and regulate) to hyper-individualism (the notion that I have only to look out for my interests). As it turns out (not surprising), all the factors reinforce one another. Sometimes, there is a domino effect even when money (a factory closing) is not the first support to disappear. Carney points out that American suburbs are designed with cars in mind. People in the spread-out suburbs make fewer social connections (there is no local pub within walking distance) than those who live in older, more dense, communities.
Interestingly, this book could have been written at any time in the last twenty years. The socially fraying places Carney describes were well in evidence by then. But writing in 2018, Carney had to hand a phenomenon that gave his statistics and arguments a laser focus, Donald Trump’s presidency, and this is politics in the narrow sense. The story here is rightly wrapped around those who voted for Trump, not in the national election, but in the primaries where they might have voted for Cruz, Rubio, or Kasich! By evaluating those who first voted for Trump, often people who never voted before, Carney discovers that this group quintessentially embodies every (or almost every) socially alienating environmental factor (remember these are of many different sorts) enumerated. The big problem here is that modern life, including technology, the dominance of large corporations, changes in the nature of work, regulatory expansion (all discussed by Carney), are, by in large, making the problem worse. The population of the alienated in the United States is expanding!
Carney acknowledges there may be good reasons (particularly as concerns increased centralization of government power at all levels) for some of what has proven corrosive to third places. Unemployment, food stamps, and Social Security were not set up because the States or Federal government wanted to administer entitlements, but because the third places (churches, neighbors, locally organized food banks) were not keeping up with the local need. Counties do not forbid the organized giving-away of cooked food, in the absence of proper health certificates, to the poor because they want the poor to starve. They outlaw it because somewhere, someone got food poisoning and sued the city for not regulating it (interestingly, one symptom of alienation Carney does not investigate is the American reliance on the judiciary to settle every problem)!
Carney does not get into these countervailing matters in any detail, but that is not his mission. While mentioning these things, he takes care not to justify or condemn any particular policy of centralizing authority, but only to investigate the connection between policy and the weakening or disappearance of the third place. If a church or rotary club cannot give away food, people who volunteer to work those giveaways are shorn of an opportunity to serve their community. Some purpose is subtracted from their life, and that is alienating! To be sure, one rule does not an alienated community make. Receiving State unemployment insurance does not by itself alienate a person. But the combination of many third places gradually disappearing from a community over time erodes the polis of the whole place. It is these places, often fraying socially for decades, where Trump’s core voters reside.
None of the corrosive factors discussed have been removed from the American scene. All of them are present and growing stronger in the American political environment. These factors also overlay communities where the polis is strong. Carney explores these also. As one might expect, the combination of money, education or religion, and intact families makes all the difference. As corroding factors reinforce one another negatively, the factors that make for a strong social environment are positively reinforcing in those places where they exist. The Republicans in these communities did not vote for Trump in the primaries.
As he winds up his investigation, Carney discovers the two single factors that most underpin, non-alienated communities, are money (lots of it), or vibrant religious communities with houses of worship that do more than hold services. He looks at Christian churches of many denominations, Mormon temples, mosques, and synagogs. More money, or more [attended] churches, correlates to more intact families, better-socialized adults and children, more social involvement, and much less alienation.
Carney acknowledges he is a conservative and not a Trump fan. But he is eminently fair to all political sides. There is really nothing to disagree with here. His research is impeccable, his writing clear. He maintains his awareness that no socially rich (not necessarily in dollars) community is perfect, and even the most alienated communities have some social interaction. If 60% of Republicans in a community voted for Trump in the primaries, that means 40% didn’t. No one factor explains everything anywhere. Yet his conservatism does cause him to dismiss certain issues (like educated Republicans voting Trump in the general election) that deserve comment. I will address some of these in my blog.
I’m putting this review on the blog not because there are dangling philosophical issues here, but because this book is so direct and exhaustive about its two most important themes:
China is not a State with a party. The party is the State, and increasingly since 2012 and absolutely since 2018 Xi Jinping has become, like Mao before him and Stalin in the Soviet days, the chairman of the party for life.
China, under Xi is embarking on a serious attempt (using everything modern technology can provide) to build the ultimate surveillance State! Further, there is nothing unrealistic about this effort. They are mostly there.
This book is geopolitical in scope and theme. It is a warning to everyone but particularly the West concerning China’s international intentions and its present and future capacity to get what it wants. It is also about the West’s abetting China’s goals politically and especially economically. But make no mistake, China is not only a people and industrial power, a State with a government. The Chinese Communist Party and the State are synonymous, and since 2013, the CCP is more and more synonymous with the will of Xi Jinping.
As long as it is, this book is direct and to the point. Dr. Strittmatter does not spend chapters on Chinese history, alluding to it only where parallels pertain or narrative becomes part of the modern problem. There is enough reference to the period since 1949, and especially the cultural revolution (1966-1976) to bring a sense of what the Chinese people have been put through for the last three generations.
Following an unusual period of intellectual openness in the 2000s, China is, since 2013, constructing a now well-on-the-way-to-completion, ultimate surveillance State. Not only are AI-driven systems watching everyone from the outside, but citizens are being made to carry apps on their phones tracking everything from travel to conversation. It isn’t possible even to opt-out because doing so in itself brands you as an enemy of China and blocks you from any travel, jobs, apartments, and so on. Nor does complying with authorities guarantee your good standing. You will be docked social credit points if you do or say something you should not. If this isn’t bad enough, what counts as good or bad behavior or speech is at the daily whim of the CCP and Xi in particular.
Strittmatter cites many examples and drills the multi-faceted nature of the CCP program home. If the system isn’t quite finished (it is not), it soon will be. But this isn’t the end of the story. The Chinese are doing their very best to extend this ability overseas! Chinese citizens must travel with these apps and connect them to foreign Internets tracking them anywhere on Earth. When the Trump administration tried to ban certain Chinese-centered payment apps there was a huge outcry! Part of this came from Americans who now use those same apps, but a good measure was Chinese-sponsored propaganda. If the apps were blocked, the CCP would lose its best foreign surveillance asset!
So far, in many instances, foreign governments and corporations have backed off when China cries foul. The core motive is dollars flowing from China into NGOs on foreign soil and into the coffers of the world’s largest corporations (other autocratic governments can be paid directly). Unlike Russia, the Chinese, particularly the CCP which commands more capital than any other single entity in the world, is rich enough to buy much of what they want, including good press, and Western corporations are only too happy to sell it to them.
“We Have Been Harmonized” is about all of this and more. Strittmatter delves into the effect this is having on the psychology of the Chinese people. He hopes, of course, that this will not go on for very long, but he does not see any end to it. There is nothing to suggest the CCP will not ultimately succeed within China. He is not so hopeful about the world outside of China either. Democracy is under assault everywhere. Even where not Chinese-influenced, the present internal struggles, political polarization, and populism play into CCP hands, some greased by the money China is throwing around. Everyone working in Western executive and legislative institutions should read this book!
This review is not on the blog because of dangling philosophical issues, but to add to a series. “The Uninhabitable Earth”, “The Geography of Risk”, and now “Water”, each in their way tell us (boldly or in hints) about what is about to befall the Earth in the next 20-50 years and beyond.
Oddly, for me, this all began with Slavoj Zizek’s “The Courage of Hopelessness”. In commenting on that book I pointed out that economic exhaustion precipitated by climate change mitigation will collapse the present capitalist world order long before the left ever has a chance to make a substantial impact. I then stumbled on these other books, reviews and Amazon links all given above.
A long book methodically drilling down into an important subject. Of all Earth’s resources, air and water are the two most necessary to sustain life, and of the two only water exists in three phases, gas, liquid, and solid, on in and above the surface. There have been other books covering the history of water (particularly freshwater) use since antiquity. Solomon goes the extra mile and looks at water from more than the usual angles. Learning to sail the oceans is a part of the water story as are the world’s inter-continental canals (Suez and Panama) and oceanic choke-points (straights like Hormuz and Malacca) and also the story of the steam engine. He also notes that food is “virtual water”. Not only is water a consumable input in growing crops, but is also a component of the many steps needed to bring the crop to the table.
Solomon begins with a review of the freshwater situation on Earth and then visits every historical civilization digging into their history of freshwater management. A general cycle is visible everywhere. A civilization arises when its region’s water resources (including bordering seas if any) are successfully tapped to yield increased food, strategic trade or military advantage, or lower cost, usually all three in one mix or another. Successful water management results in population growth and territorial expansion until the population reaches the limits of its technology’s ability to maintain and expand its water management. Politics plays a role. Even where technology and knowledge exist, a society may become unwilling, politically, to do what is necessary to manage a degrading water system. As water management declines, so does the civilization, and this is so even where the needed water still exists. In the modern age, existing water, at least freshwater, is being increasingly used up or evaporating away as ancient glacial stores melt.
The real problem of course is not exactly water but population. Solomon notes but does not comment on this, rather treating it as an inevitable background to the whole story. On the one hand, an expanding population needs more water, but it also increasingly pollutes and otherwise abuses the freshwater still to be had.
Having reviewed water history around the world all the way up to the end of the 20th Century, Solomon goes into the modern challenge. He revisits each of the world’s regions and summarizes their present and near future water challenges. Climate change is re-arranging the freshwater balance around the world. Some places become much drier, and others much wetter. Winter snows melt earlier in the season, and summer heat more quickly evaporates stored water. Mitigating water-related disasters, whether larger fires in dry places or bigger, longer-lasting floods in wetter ones, are consuming a larger percentage of the world’s resources. Technological and political success managing these changes is key to the survivability of each nation, and the world collectively. There is no guarantee of success and in fact, the present trajectory does not bode well for anyone.
As noted in the review (included below), Lynch raises the question of intolerance in a tolerant society, but he does not answer it. “Must we listen to Nazis”, or must a tolerant society tolerate a social group (Nazis are not the only intolerant group in the western world, but they are a quintessential example of intolerance) who are intolerant? If the answer happens to be no, a related question is what sort of behavior constitutes intolerance that need not be tolerated?
North America, Europe, and associated “western nations” and India are presently the world’s more “tolerant societies”. These societies, taken as political entities, are beset by problems arising from the conflict between tolerance and intolerance, the mistaken belief that a tolerant society must tolerate intolerance.
An ideal tolerant society would be one in which every social group and every political alignment is committed to a tolerance of every other group, not merely in principle but in practice, the group’s declarations, documents, political appeals, and so on. The people of a tolerant society need not agree with one another intellectually, need not have the same ideas of what constitutes a good or better society. They have the right to vote for their views and, if their numbers are sufficient, dominate the society’s political process. Permitable differences include income disparity, at least to the point where it becomes effectively intolerant by precluding those on the downside from acquiring resources needed to continue their [tolerant] activities. The tolerant collective cannot advocate for advantage that precludes the same right to support whatever social, political, or economic policy any other group happens to hold, provided only that they are likewise tolerant.
Since, in our ideal tolerant society, every other tolerant group must be tolerated, there cannot develop any motive to cheat on the political process because the rule of tolerance, everyone must have the same opportunity for social and political expression, would preclude it. No group could justify its social or political ends on grounds that other [tolerant] groups have no right to their expression. Intolerant means never yield tolerant ends except in the single case of ridding society of intolerance. In that one case, tolerant means cannot work because the intolerant will always refuse to accede to the tolerant. Refusal on the part of a tolerant society to rid themselves of intolerant groups is the source of the intolerant group’s political advantage. More on this below.
Obviously, in such a society, there could be no Nazis for the simple reason that what makes a Nazi a Nazi (speaking of the collective) is not their economic theories, but their intolerance of certain groups, notably Jews, people of color, homosexuals, and so on. In the end, their intolerance becomes intolerance of every other group that disagrees with them on any subject.
By intolerance (on the Nazi part) here, I speak of the target group’s illegitimacy in the views of the intolerant group. The target group (or groups) have, in the eyes of the Nazis, no right to suffrage of any kind, even to the point (ultimately) of their right to exist, not merely as a social or political entity, but as individuals! Intolerance of this sort ends up asserting an “end justifies the means” social (and so political) attitude. If the target group does not even have the right to exist, the Nazi has no problem breaking with the “rules of tolerance” up to and including taking life.
An intolerant social or political group can only be comprised of intolerant individuals. That intolerant individuals might exist in an otherwise tolerant society cannot be ruled out. So long as intolerance is confined to them personally by criminalizing intolerant behavior (for example, hate crimes) and forbidding them to form collectives with any political or social voice the tolerant society survives. Groups of intolerant individuals might come together to express their mutual intolerance, but no such group can apply to be a political party or formal social group having any recognized political legitimacy, special tax status, or what have you.
When a tolerant society signals an intolerant group’s acceptance (socially or politically) by granting it political legitimacy, a certain inevitable, historically documented dynamic begins. The intolerant group has an inherent political advantage. Since, for the intolerant, the ends justify the means, they are free to cheat while those who are tolerant are not. Though it may take some time, the intolerant gain advantage, politically and economically, because their intolerance is [mistakenly] protected by the tolerant. This brings more people into the group (they sense an economic or political advantage in belonging) giving it even greater political influence. The cycle is self-reinforcing. The intolerant group eventually grows to overwhelm the formerly tolerant society.
This is why the answer to the original question: must we listen to Nazis, is no! Tolerating intolerance, possibly defensible on some theoretical grounds, is illogical because the intolerant are intrinsically corrosive to any society that tolerates them. Intolerance, like cancer, is inevitably destructive of the body that harbors it. It is not logical to do anything but struggle to root it out.
This commentary is already long enough, but I would briefly address the second question only implicitly covered in the above discussion: what counts as legitimately disallowed intolerance? Suppose I am the publisher of an astronomy magazine. Must I allow the publication of an article arguing that the earth is flat and at the center of the universe? If I sponsor a conference of astronomers, must I allow the flat-earther an official voice with a formal presentation? Must I allow her to attend the conference at all?
To all but the last question, the answer is no. As noted above, the issue is political and social intolerance, not intellectual disagreement. In my view, intolerance of intellectual viewpoints (“your ideas are idiotic”), even ad hominem (“you are an idiot”) do not automatically count as intolerance of the disallowed sort. My position as conference sponsor allows me to reject papers and speakers whose intellectual views clash strongly with my own. I am not denying this person a political or social voice or within her social group, nor social interaction with my group.
Forbidding her even to attend my conference might amount to disallowed intolerance provided she has not proven to be a disruptive influence at past conferences; this because a conference is a social as well as an intellectual event. To avoid unrealistic restrictions on human psychology, the tolerance demanded of every social and political organization is limited to the right of each organization as such to exist legitimately in the eyes of every other organization. The association of astronomers is not intolerant of the flat-earth society politically or socially, only intellectually.
We might go on to examine a more complex and perhaps realistic case. Must the flat-earther be permitted to teach astronomy or earth science in a public school? Imagine she is otherwise qualified by having the appropriate teaching certificate. What complicates this example is the public nature of the school (supported by taxes on the community of all social groups in its district) coupled with the curriculum approved (presumably) by that community. I leave this example as an exercise for the reader.
Another book about the polarization of American politics, this time, the viewpoint of individual and social psychology. Lynch makes some excellent general points about extreme polarization and unwillingness to listen to other views poisoning American politics. He well describes the harm this does to democratic polities in general and the U.S. in particular. There is nothing new in this. There have been other periods of extreme polarization in American politics, but not like this one since before the Civil War.
Among the new features, this time around, the Internet and the sheer scale of many modern corporations contribute to the problem. The Internet market is filled with people who actively seek to limit their exposure to ideas running counter to their own. Providing individuals tools to build these barriers to alternatives (the same tools can explore alternate viewpoints) is just good business. Individuals, of their own free will, choose to use them to limit perspectives to which they are exposed.
The Internet is but one facet of this problem of know-it-all arrogance infecting polities all over the world. Still, the pain is both acute and different in the U.S. and Europe because these are among the few places in the world (Australia, Japan, among others) where political and ideological alternatives are not criminalized. Lynch lays out the problem and its consequences both for the health of society and “the truth,” which he points out, is always out there even if not directly accessible or utterly denied by postmodern critics.
While the book is good in general terms, Lynch elides specific problems. He asks at one point, “must we listen to Nazis?” In other words, must a tolerant society tolerate intolerance? He asks the question but never really answers other than to point out that opinion on this goes both ways.
If this is not a great book, it is a good one and another solid addition to the literature about dangerous sickness in Western cultures.
Whatever one believes about The Urantia Book, there is plenty of serendipity in the universe. Literally on the day I published “Problems with the Cosmology and Astronomy of The Urantia Book”, I received a link to Tom Allen’s “The Great Debate on the Scale of Orvonton”, one of the issues I discuss in my essay. Mr. Allen does this issue far more justice than do I. For example, he suggests that some of the confusion over The Urantia Book’s terminological usage stems from its describing two different Orvontons: today’s partly finished one, and the future finished version. This is an excellent point that I missed. The time factor, destiny, does help to interpret what The Urantia Book says about this matter. It does not, however, completely clear up the problem.
I have no quarrel with the content of Mr. Allen’s book. He does miss a few things when evaluating Urantia Book claims against modern cosmology (he has republished the book three times, last in 2020, to accommodate just such advances). Type-1A supernova overlap with and supplement the Cepheid variable “standard candle” and have now for some thirty years, but they are not mentioned. It can be argued that what the papers call the Grand Universe is more substantially complete than he thinks [21:1.4]. His argument, that the universe does not look (to modern astronomy) like the papers describe because we are very early in its history can be challenged. He does mention the big bang, but only to dismiss it as one of many mistaken cosmological theories soon to be discarded as have others in the past. I believe this is unfair. Allen fails to accommodate an enormous expansion, since 2000, of evidence in support of the big bang, though to be clear, the Orvonton debate and the origin of the universe issue are not directly connected.
Mr. Allen states his bias explicitly (as a good philosopher should) on page 8 where he says: “I crave philosophically to understand what the Urantia papers say about the cosmology, cosmogony, and cosmography of the universe. I am curious how current astronomy along with early 20th Century history validates or confuses revelatory articulation.” The revelatory status of The Urantia Book over-all is assumed. While the papers do state that the cosmology presented is not inspired, it is assumed to mean something, to represent some truth-fact about the universe’s organization. If what Mr. Allen calls “surface errors” in The Urantia Book’s assertions are in conflict with modern astronomy, our job is to puzzle out what the book is really trying to tell us.
I do not make this assumption. Cosmology and astronomy have made longer leaps since 1965 than they did throughout all of human history prior to that year, including the development of powerful telescopes (optical and radio) in the first half of the 20th Century when the papers were written. Throughout human history down to roughly 2000 all astronomy was electromagnetic (including the discovery of the CMB), light of one wavelength or another. Only since that date have two non-electromagnetic means of sensing the cosmos come into existence, neutrino and gravitational wave astronomy, the former in particular strongly reinforcing cosmology’s conviction in the truth-fact of the big bang.
As noted above, none of this bears directly on Mr. Allen’s exposition of the Orvonton scale issue. If however I am right (I do not insist that I am right) about the deeper absurdity of Urantia Book cosmology (see essay linked above), those problems reduce the significance of the Orvonton dispute to something like the medieval scholar debate over how many angels can sit on the head of a pin.
None of this is to gainsay Mr. Allen’s book. As concerns both the wider and narrower cosmological issues, he has set himself an impossible task. One simply cannot assume what The Urantia Book says is meaningful and contradiction free, and accommodate the discoveries of modern cosmology at the same time.
This delightful little book is written for a specific audience, readers of The Urantia Book, and specifically, readers interested in what The Urantia Book says about cosmology and astronomy.
The Urantia Book describes a [future] highly structured universe still very much in that structuring process. But to present this description, the authors were constrained to reveal it in the cosmological and astronomical language and knowledge of the times in which The Urantia Book was written, more or less the 1930s. Orvonton is a sub-segment of the present and future universe.
What The Urantia Book says about Orvonton suggests it might be the Milky Way galaxy and its satellites. Other statements suggest it includes (perhaps in the future) all the galaxies in our “local cluster”, or the “local sheet” (a peculiar collection of near-by galaxies all lying in a plain), local volume, or up to the Virgo supercluster! None of these collections was understood in the 1930s, astronomers at that time having discovered some of these galaxies but not their spatial relation.
Mr. Allen pieces together the clues leading to various of these hypotheses. He is meticulous and scholarly, carefully documenting all the various lines of evidence from The Urantia Book and evaluating them in relation to both 1930s and modern astronomy. His purpose here is to survey the territory. He does not argue for a particular favorite interpretation. His evaluation if not exhaustive is close to it. Overall a scholarly presentation, and while there are issues here and there with text formatting in my Kindle edition, given the narrow audience for this book, I will not count those against him. Bravo! Good job!
The purpose of this essay is to set the cosmology and astronomy of the Urantia Book against what modern, twenty-first-century cosmology and astronomy observe in the physical universe. I will also argue that even if today’s cosmology and astronomy have got some things wrong about the structure of the universe, there is enough evidence favoring cosmology’s fundamental insights to render the Urantia Book’s cosmology, and much of what it says about astronomy, impossible.
Conventions: The Urantia Book is UB or “the book”. Reference to scientific papers and images are linked. References to sections of the book are signaled by [UB paper:section.paragraph].
Updated on May 26, 2021 to include section “a missing superuniverse”.
SCIENCE AND THE URANTIA BOOK
The Urantia Book (UB) is about God. Its theology (presented primarily in the Forward, papers 1-10 and 99-118) expands human ideas about God, revealing a more nuanced picture than any human-originated theology has achieved. Theology has consequences. For example, if God is good and what humans gain in this life has continuing value personally, there must be some mechanism for expressing a postmortal personality. The UB illustrates this with its story of the ascension scheme coupled with an explanation of universe administration (God the Seven-Fold) terminating in the Creator Sons, which sets the context of our relationship to Jesus, Michael of Nebadon. The book’s last section, “The Life of Jesus”, is perhaps the most remarkable illustration of the relationship possible between man and God ever written!
The UB contains hundreds of scientific assertions. Readers of the book have for some time been aware that much of this science is problematic. In 2017, Geoffrey Taylor re-wrote (updated) “Scientific Predictions of the Urantia Book”, his 1987 paper co-authored with Irwin Ginsburgh. In this paper, he discusses 31 specific “scientific predictions” found in the UB. He compares them to what is known now, confirming (most), disconfirming (a few), or remaining an open question.
Part of the problem of assessing these UB assertions is dating them. UB history holds the text of the book was completed before 1940. If this is true, then any matching discovery made after 1940 would be evidence for the UB’s veracity, at least that its authors made a good guess. The UB was not published until 1955. All of whatever physical precursors existed before that date, the hard evidence that no changes were made during the 1940s and very early 1950s (the original, date-able, notes and printing plates) were destroyed. I mention this because it is a part of what is problematic about “UB science”. I do not attempt in this essay to resolve these issues. What is problematic about UB cosmology and astronomy has nothing to do with these date issues.
Here is a categorization and count of issues Taylor addresses:
The UB contains dozens of “scientific assertions” besides those Taylor mentions, and some of the above might fit different categories. To an extent, he cherry-picks his examples. For example, he makes no mention of this on 65:6.1. “Ever will the scientist come nearer and nearer the secrets of life, but never will he find them, and for no other reason than that he must kill protoplasm in order to analyze it.” The italics never and must are mine because categorical terms like these make the statement false. Biologists have been probing cells and measuring their living processes since the late 1960s! Surely revelators (who could “anticipate the scientific discoveries of a thousand years” [UB 101:4.2]) would know this? Why include categoricals like “must” and “never”?
Besides the “hard science” categories listed above (Taylor’s subject), the UB makes hundreds of statements in the arenas of soft sciences, anthropology, sociology, psychology, even “political science”, but none of these are Taylor’s subjects, nor mine. This paper focuses on cosmology and astronomy because the UB’s description of the mortal ascension scheme rests on these. I will cover the biology of human evolution (another major issue) in another paper.
In paper 101:4.1, The book makes this statement: “Any cosmology presented as a part of revealed religion is destined to be outgrown in a very short time”, and 101:4.2 emphasizes that “The cosmology of these revelations is not inspired.” To me, “not inspired” means the revelators merely adopted and adapted the cosmology, primarily the steady-state idea they found in human sources before 1950. But the book’s morphology of the Master Universe (everything inhabited and not yet inhabited), nor its revelation of “space respiration”, is not to be found in astronomy or cosmology papers of the period. Where did the authors get this material? Except for the steady-state-creation idea, UB cosmology does not reflect scientific consensus or even speculation of the 20th Century’s first half. If “not inspired”, and not a product of early 20th Century science, how exactly are we to understand it? If it seems not to match observation, are we to accord it some credibility merely because it appears in the UB?
Briefly summarized UB cosmology says:
The physical universe is a steady-state creation along the lines of human ideas popular in the first half of the 20th Century. [UB 9:3.4] [UB 42:4.9]
Space, presently filled with material creation, respires in billion-year cycles. A billion expanding (we are currently halfway through such a phase) and a billion contracting. [UB 11:6 whole section]
The material creation is not symmetrical except bilaterally around an axis perpendicular to Paradise. Paradise is an ellipse, and the universe as a whole rotates around paradise (much more on this below). The axis perpendicular to Paradise is the only one close to symmetrical. The other two axes (an ellipse has three) are asymmetrical. [UB 11:7.3]
The physical universe astronomers and cosmologists see from Earth looks absolutely nothing like what the UB describes. What we see cannot be interpreted (rationalized) along lines the UB claims is the case, nor can the UB presentation be aligned to modern observations. It isn’t that the UB is wrong as to details; much of it cannot be made sense-of in the light of present observation, including types of astronomies invented in but the last few decades! At least this is what I now believe.
Cosmology is a purely observational science. The universe “happened” (slowly or suddenly), once, sometime in the past, and continues to the present day. We cannot experiment by setting initial conditions and seeing what sort of universe emerges from them. What cosmologists do is look. Having well understood the physics of light and the effect of gravity on it, they propose various theories about how the universe got going (like steady-state) and ask: “what are the consequences (to the light we observe) of that theory”? Dozens of theories have been tried (including those suggested by UB readers trying to rationalize the UB picture with present observations), and only the Big Bang survives. The Big Bang’s consequences (the first of many, the Cosmic Microwave Background temperature, calculated 10+ years before it was found), is the only theory that survives all, and I mean all the tests (see note on Big Bang evidence at the end of the essay).
STEADY STATE versus THE BIG BANG
The big bang was, 100 years ago, a nascent cosmological competitor to the millennia-old idea that the appearance of matter in the cosmos is an ongoing process, new matter, hydrogen (or perhaps protons, neutrons, and electrons), slowly appearing throughout the universe. This “steady-state” creation would forever produce new material for the formation of stars and other entities, yielding today a universe of unknown size and age, possibly infinite and forever!
In 1953 George Gamow contributed to the debate. Given the controversial (until the mid-1960s) notion of a big bang roughly ten-billion years ago (a then-best estimate based on tracing apparent recession speed of distant galaxies backwards in time), Gamow reasoned that there should be a left-over, cold, cosmic microwave background of roughly 7 degrees Kelvin (the CMB) throughout the universe. In 1965 the CMB was discovered accidentally by two Bell Labs engineers trying to figure out why they couldn’t get rid of a constant noise at 2.72 degrees Kelvin from a new, very sensitive antenna. The first “big evidence” for the big bang was not that distant objects appear to be racing away from one another (a steady-state creation also expands as more matter is added), but that there is a cold-light at 2.72548±0.00057 K coming from every direction we look.
A singular origin is the only reasonable explanation for the phenomenon of this light. Since the 60s, numerous “other phenomena” whose observation can only be explained by singular origin, evidence upon evidence, has piled on to support the idea. As might be expected, at least into the last quarter of the 20th Century, “Steady State” aficionados suggested other explanations. All had (as good scientific theories must) testable consequences. The tests all failed, while the big bang has survived every test of its theorized outcomes. I bring up the big bang here not to hawk it (I list some independent evidentiary lines at the end of the essay), but because it has implications not only for the matter of “steady-state creation”, but also the UB’s other cosmological assertions, space respiration and the shape (morphology) of the creation.
As concerns “steady-state”, the UB tells us that the Infinite Spirit can slow down energies to the “point of materialization” [UB 9:3.4]. Presumably, this is the source of all the matter in the universe. Any light produced by this process would cool as the universe expanded (the book tells us we are in an expanding phase due to “space respiration”). But since matter creation is constant, we would expect the temperature of such light to vary as we look across the sky. It would be warmer coming from “newer regions” and cooler from “older”. Yet all the background light we see (strictly “listen to” with radio telescopes as it has cooled down to microwaves) had to begin simultaneously. To hypothesize that, nevertheless, light from creations at different times all happens to hit Earth at 2.725 degrees Kelvin from everywhere is ad hoc.
SHAPE OF THE UNIVERSE
The UB’s biggest problem is the shape of the universe (the Maltese Cross 11:7:3), its declaration that there is an upper and lower limit to “pervaded (the material creation) space” (11:7.6). A related problem is the missing consequence of a mass, Havona and its surrounding gravity bodies, “as great as the seven superuniverses (the presently inhabited “Grand Universe”) combined” [UB 12:1.4], not to mention the very existence of a different, “non-pervaded space” constituting a sort of reservoir to and from which pervaded space flows. The UB description, if authoritative, would have evident observational consequences. Given the UB picture, if we look in all directions from our position in space, we should see different things. In a direction outward along the plain of creation (as the UB tells it), we should see lots of galaxies (the “outer space” universes). But in a direction perpendicular to this plain (up or down), we should see nothing at all beyond our superuniverse. Even accepting a rationalization by UB readers that our galactic supercluster (see ASTRONOMY below for discussion) is the real superuniverse, we should see nothing beyond it.
Moreover (I thank my friend Charles Lamar for pointing this out), if we look in a direction above or below the center of our galaxy, above and below what the UB claims is the center of creation lying somewhere behind it, some substantial angle of arc would be a view at and through non-pervaded space. What would non-pervaded space (not to mention some mid-space zone that must also intervene [11:7.3]) do to the starlight coming from its other side? The UB provides no clue to this answer, but the only thing these regions could possibly do, if our observations are to be believed, is to so manipulate the light that the universe of galaxies on its other side look like the universe we view in every other direction!
So what do we see? We see what cosmologists call an “isotropic universe” that is also homogenous on very large scales. meaning “the same in every direction” In every direction, we see billions of galactic clusters and streams of galaxies out to 10+ billion light-years. Even our supercluster is but one of billions of them in every direction (see illustration in this link). Every dot of light in that image is a galaxy or cluster of galaxies, and this is what we see in every direction we look. Moreover, even if this illustration (after all, a computer construct based on observation) is not quite right, what is indisputable is that what we see is the same everywhere! In every direction, including towards the Milky Way’s center, there are galaxies and galactic clusters at all distances everywhere. Even if individual estimates of distance are considerably mistaken we cannot be mistaken about the shape of the overall distribution. This fact alone makes the UB picture of a bilaterally symmetrical universe unbelievable.
Some astute reader is going to object and say that the universe may not be precisely isotropic. There is in fact some evidence that matter-density in one axis is greater than in the axis perpendicular to it. But the difference is two percent. Material density along the denser axis is two percent greater than in the perpendicular axis. Two percent is nowhere near the all-and-none difference that follows from the universe architecture portrayed in the UB!
Suppose the UB has deliberately provided a fantasy cosmology (possible, if not likely even given the astronomical knowledge of the 1920s and 30s) on which to rest its description of the mortal ascension scheme? The problem is that what we see is so vastly different from what the UB describes it is impossible to reconcile the two architectures. Furthermore, astronomers on a world a few billion light-years from earth would observe, from their world, the same isotropic universe we detect from ours. A universe that appears isotropic from every position within it hasn’t any center! The whole of the UB ascension scheme ultimately rests on Paradise at the center of everything, a center that doesn’t appear to exist. Now one might argue that we cannot assume another position from which to view the universe. We have good reason to believe the universe would appear isotropic from any place in it, but we cannot know this. There are, or would be, other consequences to what we see if Havona existed.
THE HAVONA GRAVITY PROBLEM
This issue of a center (and what the UB says about it) is integral to the book’s “shape story”. The central universe, Paradise, the billion Havona worlds, and the “dark gravity bodies” surrounding it, are said to contain mass “far in excess” of the entire Grand Universe [UB 12:1.4]! That’s a lot of mass! I’m tempted to bring up the matter of gravitational waves here, but I demur. It is possible (being no physicist), the arrangement of a central mass surrounded by two rings of “dark gravity bodies” orbiting in opposite directions [UB 14:1.8] is set up precisely to cancel (by interference) the enormous gravitational waves that, otherwise, we would surely have noticed (and do not) coming from some particular direction in the sky. But while I can speculate my way around missing gravitational waves, there would be other consequences of such a mass.
According to the UB, Havona is presently on the other side of our galactic center (we are not told how far), where dust obscures what would otherwise be a view of a massive dark body occluding everything on the far side of it [UB 15:3.3]. Whoever constructed this part of the UB cosmological fantasy did not understand the effect of mass on light. Even if no gravitational waves emanate from Havona, the central universe has gravity [UB 11:8.7].
While we cannot see directly through the center of our galaxy (we do see behind the dust in X-ray light, but what is visible are stars yet in our galaxy), we can see above and below the central band. What do we see? We see the same thing we see in every other direction, billions of galaxies out to more than ten billion light-years! But that is not what we would see if there was, lying behind the central band of the Milky Way, a collection of bodies whose mass was equal to the whole of the grand universe. All the light coming from stars (superuniverses and outer space bands) on the other side of Havona (setting aside the issue of looking through non-pervaded space discussed above) and just above and below the Milky Way’s central band would be bent towards us and appear compressed together. What we would see is starlight fused into a bright band (see this image of a black hole lensing a galaxy lying somewhere behind it. Now imagine that instead of a single galaxy, we saw the light of thousands smeared out by the gravity of Havona), a halo of light surrounding an empty (dark) region. We do not see anything like this.
Although our view through our galactic center is hazy and the few stars we resolve are within the Milky Way, whatever is beyond the galaxy, it cannot be a mass-collection as great as the rest of the Grand Universe combined. Any large gravitational mass would still distort the light coming from stars (galaxies) on its other side. In short, and again what we would see looking in that direction would not look the same as what we see looking in the opposite direction. But what we see is the same. There cannot be a mass such as the UB describes somewhere on the other side of our galactic center.
While perhaps not UB cosmology’s biggest problem, space respiration is a big one. Briefly put, the volume of “pervaded space”, the horizontal arms of the maltese cross, respires, expands and contracts, in alternating one-billion year cycles [UB 11:6], presumably expanding and compressing the material creation along with the space it occupies. Contraction does not result in a “big crunch” (everything gets crushed together, generating a new big bang), but rather a partial inspiration (contracting) for a billion years before expanding again. Neither the UB nor modern cosmology hints at anything like a mechanism that could drive this process. We are told only that “non-pervaded space”, the vertical section of the maltese cross, also contracts and expands inversely with the pervaded zone. As with other such assertions of the revelators, we are left only with the reasonable assumption that God knows the trick.
Even if real, we cannot measure space respiration directly. We have not been observers on Earth long enough to witness a transition from contraction to expansion (our present condition). If, however, our understanding of how light behaves in an expanding universe (red-shifted), and how it would behave in a contracting universe (blue-shifted), is correct, the alternating expansion and contraction would appear to have visible consequences we do not observe.
There are two issues with space respiration. The first is again the temperature of the Cosmic Microwave Background light. The UB never says how old the physical universe is. Most readers take it to imply it is older than the 14.8 billion-years cosmologists believe it to be. But even given our age estimates, there would have been seven complete respiration cycles (seven out, seven in, and presently a eighth expansion). It might happen that the universe’s background light is currently at 2.725K (setting aside the consequence of steady-state creation at different times noted above) given a universe that is expanding and contracting in two-billion-year cycles. But remember that the calculated temperature (in 1953 before the CMB was discovered and measured), only four degrees Kelvin off the measured temperature, was based on a model universe expanding continuously for roughly ten billion years.
Even if we assume the universe expands over-all, each expiration leaving the universe a little bigger than it was when the prior inspiration began (more matter being created over time), it seems extraordinarily coincidental that the measured temperature of the light is very close to the theoretical result of light from a big bang and continuous expansion of 14.8 billion years! That coincidence is problematic.
The coincidence regarding the background light’s temperature is not the only observational consequence of space respiration. Suppose we take two very similar stars, A and B (same mass, composition, history, and spectrum), both a few billions of light-years distant, but star B is one billion light-years farther from Earth than star A. Both stars exhibit red-shifted light because we are presently in an expiration (expansion) phase of the respiration cycle. But on its journey to Earth, star B’s light experienced an extra period of blue-shift (being one-billion light-years more distant) than star A. When star B’s photons were as far from Earth as star A, B’s light would be a little bluer than it would, had it not traveled that extra billion years during a contraction phase. Compared to A, star B would appear a little bluer than it should(remember they are identical). By our theories, it should be a little redder being one-billion light-years more distant.
To be clear, star B’s light would still be red-shifted but less red-shifted than star A. When star B’s light, the light we see today, reaches us, its redshift distorts towards the blue. It would appear closer than it is because our theory of light says that “less-red means closer”. Half of the millions of galaxies we see with our telescopes in every direction (roughly those at odd multiples of billion light-year distances from us), would be a little bluer than our cosmological theories predict. From our viewpoint, their cosmological distance would appear closer (less red) than they are.
Looking outward from Earth, for every two-billion light-year increment, half the stars in every direction would appear closer to us than they should! There would appear to be rings, like tree-rings, extending every other billion light-years outwards for as far as we could see. The rings would be an optical illusion, a mirage, an artifact of the stellar spectrum given our current theories. But given our present ideas, the illusion of such rings would be unavoidable and noticeable to astronomers and cosmologists if space respiration were a fact. But we do not see such rings, an illusion that space respiration, if real, would impose on our viewpoint. Space respiration, like the maltese cross, is a fantasy.
According to the UB everything in the universe, other than Paradise, is rotating. Indeed, every layer of the material creation from Havona outwards, the Grand Universe and the four outer-space levels, rotates in a direction opposite the layers adjacent to it [UB 11:7.9]!
There is nothing in the big bang theory that would impart rotation, angular momentum, to the universe. Most cosmologists do not believe the universe is rotating. Imparted by the big bang, rotation would leave a polarization fingerprint on the background light, the CMB. Cosmologists have looked, but see nothing of this so far. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. In fact there is recent evidence that rotations around multiple axes is possible (see link), while the UB claims but one axis (the semi-symmetrical axis perpendicular to Paradise). Nothing of what has been seen would suggest opposite rotations at different distances from us.
Alternate rotation of successive space-level bands would surely be noticed. Between the Grand Universe and the first outer-space level, the additive effect of rotation in opposite directions would have dramatic effects.
First, within a band, the proportion of galaxies rotating in the direction of band motion would be greater than the differences observed. Between bands, an even greater, alternating, difference would stand out. We would expect more rotation in one direction in nearby space, one-hundred-million light-years, and a billion light-years distant, more in the opposite direction. The small statistical variation in rotation randomness detected (see link above) makes no mention of variation by distance, nor does this earlier paper looking at a single-axis rotation. Second, and much more obviously, all the galaxies in the next outer-band approaching us would exhibit blue-shifted light, while those moving away from us would be more red-shifted than universe expansion could account for.
Despite some controversy over universe rotation as a whole, there can be little doubt the UB claim of alternating directions-of-rotation cannot be true. By any measure of distance, the lack of systematic difference in the color of light produced by bands of galaxies rotating in opposite directions is an irrefutable falsification of the UB claim.
DARK MATTER AND DARK ENERGY
There are two problems in modern cosmology, dark energy and dark matter, that are not mentioned directly in the UB, but bear commenting on in relation to what the book does say. Dark energy (say cosmologists) is what pushes space apart yielding the galaxy recession observations made since the 1920s. The UB has space respiration which has problems discussed above. On the side of physics and cosmology, there is the quantum vacuum, which at least (despite controversy) points at a solution to the dark energy problem.
Dark matter is another problem. It arises from our observation that the stars in the outer areas of a rotating galaxy are moving as fast as stars nearer the galactic center. This violates our understanding of how gravity works. Unless that is, there is much more gravity in and around the galaxy than we can measure by adding up all the stars and gas we detect. “Dark Matter” was proposed (in 1933 by Fritz Zwiky) as a solution to the problem. Think of it as a sort of stand-in for “we do not know what but it has gravity”.
The UB, tells us about entities, “Master Physical Controllers”, “force organizers”, and “Power Centers” [UB 29 all] whose job might just possibly include making that strange behavior happen, some sub-system of their larger-scale organization. Unlike space-respiration, unless one day dark matter is directly detected, there is nothing to be observed that would permit us to tell the difference between the action of controllers and force organizers or dark matter.
Dark matter is among the few cosmological problems not directly informed by the cold light of the CMB. But that light does pose an issue for controllers and other entities organizing physical matter as portrayed in the UB. The cold light is a fingerprint, left by the past, on the present distribution of galactic clusters we see throughout the visible (Earth’s “cosmic horizon”) universe. That fingerprint, plus momentum and gravity (including dark matter), all floating on dark energy, explains the present distribution of all the matter in the visible universe.
Unless the real goal (at least to the fourteen-billion-year stage) of the entities revealed in the UB is the present isotopic and homogeneous distribution we observe, they aren’t doing very much besides turning galaxies into pinwheels. To be sure this is not specifically a problem for UB cosmology as the matter of dark matter lies for the moment beyond our grasp.
In a hierarchy of “big science”, astronomy falls below cosmology. Cosmology is about universe origins and structure over-all. Today, on Earth, cosmology is focused on the background light. Astronomy is about the light of stars, not the background. In this essay, and the UB, the two disciplines cross over in the implications of space respiration and alternate-band-rotation. But those ideas are found nowhere in modern cosmology or astronomy other than the possibility of some over-all universe rotation, and the notion of a permanent, gravity-driven reversal of expansion into a “big crunch” and new big bang.
There is a lot of astronomy in the UB, much of it problematic. As with cosmology, the problem is what the UB says conflicts with our observations. Here, I refer to a more “local neighborhood”, hundreds-of-thousands of light-years and up to a few hundreds-of-millions, but not billions.
What exactly corresponds to the superuniverse of Orvonton? Tom Allen has written “The Great Debate on the Scale of Orvonton” addressing this question in a far more thorough and systematic way than I do here. He also makes a point about time. It is quite reasonable to suppose that the book speaks of two different Orvontons, one as it exists now, and the other as it will exist in the far future. The UB does not differentiate between these, but Mr. Allen’s point is worth bearing in mind in the discussion below.
The UB usually implies Orvonton is the “Milky Way Galaxy”, the issue being what counts as the Milky Way? Our superuniverse is about five-hundred-thousand light-years across [UB 32:2.11]. Now introductory astronomy texts will say the spiral arm galaxy we think of as the Milky Way is about one-hundred-thousand light-years across, but that does not include the now-discovered dozens of satellite galaxies orbiting the spiral part. If Orvonton includes all of these, five-hundred-thousand light-years is a fair (possible) estimate.
About two million light-years from the Milky Way is the spiral galaxy Andromeda and its collection of satellites. Is Andromeda another superuniverse? If it is, the fact that our two galaxies and their satellite collections are careening towards one another at thousands of kilometers an hour should be troubling. It will take millions of years for them to collide, but in the UB’s picture, they shouldn’t be drawing closer to one another at all but preceding in an orderly orbital fashion around the central universe! The UB says Andromeda is not yet inhabited [UB 15:4.7]. If anything, to our telescopes, it looks at least as well organized as our own Milky Way. Why should a well organized star cloud so close to us, in particular compared to all other galaxies in our super-cluster, be uninhabited when we, clearly, are not?
There is another curious thing about the Milky Way and Andromeda. There aren’t any other big galaxies anywhere within a few tens-of-millions of light-years. Some hundred randomly scattered smaller galaxies are in this region, our “local galactic cluster”. Beyond the “local cluster”, there are some hundred-thousand other, mostly small, galaxies and other local clusters out to one-hundred-million light-years! This collection, our super-cluster, is not distributed smoothly in its space but looks more like a chaotic three-dimensional ink-blot. It is called Laniakea, and this link is a computer rendering of it.
This region of space, a bubble some hundred million light-years across, looks nothing like the UB’s description of Orvonton, its ten grand divisions [15:3.4, 41:3.10] and so on. If the UB refers to the far future, it isn’t clear about it, especially if astronomers have supposedly identified eight of the ten divisions [UB 15:3.4]. This would have to mean “future Orvonton” and the eight identified divisions the few near-by galactic clusters identified in the 1930s. Some UB readers have seized on the hundred-thousand figure for the number of galaxies in the super-cluster (a rough estimate which could be substantially high or low, we do not know) and suggest that these galaxies are really what the UB calls “local universes”, the domains of individual Creator Sons. What ever part of the superuniverse these entities represent, they will come to look like the UB description in time.
Entertaining this idea for a moment explains the present chaotic distribution of the super-cluster if it can be shown that some order is being imposed. Is Laniakea more organized today than it was a billion or so years ago? We do not know of course, but our limited observation of relative motions does not suggest any ordering pattern and can seemingly be explained purely by gravity. It might also be that the UB is just plain inconsistent! Moreover, the speculation about entities around our galaxy, all the way out to the super-cluster, does not explain why, looking outward, widening our focus beyond a few hundred million light-years to a billion or more, we do not see one or a few super-clusters around us, but thousands of them in all directions. According to the UB, there are empty spaces, bands of lessened activity, in between bands of galactic creation, the “outer space levels” surrounding the Grand Universe [11:7.7]. Our view reveals nothing like this. To be sure we observe gigantic voids, empty space distributed like holes in Swiss cheese, but nowhere laid out in neat concentric circles.
A NOTE ON THE GREAT ATTRACTOR
The Great Attractor is not a part of UB cosmology or astronomy. It does, however, illustrate what readers sometimes do with bits of space news in effort to reconcile the UB with observations. Some decades ago, shortly after Laniakea’s discovery, it was also discovered that the entire supercluster was moving together in a definite direction and speed that was not, at that time, explainable. The term “great attractor” (GA) was coined in the early 2000s by Lynden-Bell as a stand-in for whatever it is that is pulling us along, at the time, an unknown gravitational source. Some UB readers speculated that the GA was Havona. I have already noted the effect on our observations that Havona would impose, and in the last few years, the GA has proven explainable after all.
There are not one but two Laniakea-sized superclusters out ahead of us in our line of flight, one a hundred-million light-years ahead of Laniakea, the other a hundred-million beyond the first. By contrast, behind us, in a direction opposite these two superclusters, there is a void, a bubble of mostly nothing some five-hundred-million light-years wide. Two superclusters lie in one direction, with nothing to counterbalance their gravity in the other. That explains both the direction and speed of our motion.
A MISSING SUPERUNIVERSE?
If the shape of the universe is the UB’s biggest problem cosmologically speaking, nothing more illustrates the book’s internal inconsistency better than this issue of Orvonton. The UB does not tell us if superuniverses evolve together or if number one somewhat precedes two, and so on down to number seven, Orvonton. Either way we should, from our perspective in Orvonton, see two (at least) other superuniverses, number one out in whatever direction we are moving, and number six on our other side.
If the Milky Way is Orvonton, then Andromeda is a natural candidate for one of the other inhabited superuniverses. But there is nothing comparable to Andromeda on the other side of us, and moreover, the UB explicitly denies Andromeda is inhabited! If Andromeda is not inhabited it cannot be superuniverse one or six. What then of Laniakea, our enormous hundred-million-light-year-spanning supercluster? Surely it is possible there are uninhabited regions of Orvonton, but of the hundred-thousand or so galaxies comprising Laniakea, the two largest and most obviously developed are Andromeda and the Milky Way.
If Laniakea is Orvonton, then there are two other superclusters (Shapley the nearest) out in one direction, but nothing, a gigantic empty void, in the other. If Shapley is superuniverse number one (we are moving in its direction), there is nothing to Laniakea’s opposite side representing number six. Perhaps Orvonton is even bigger than Laniakea? Astronomers have recently mapped a gigantic supercluster, outside Laniakea, that wraps more than half-way around it they call the “south pole wall” (see link). Such speculation can go on forever, but long before we reach the south polar wall we have left Orvonton’s association with the Milky Way far behind.
No matter what collection (the local cluster, the local sheet, and so on) we suppose might be Orvonton the selection of what would have to be universe numbers one and six would be arbitrary. No matter what we want to call inhabited superuniverses, however we group the galaxies, everything around them would have to be “outer space” and so moving in a direction opposite to our counter-clockwise rotation around Havona. We do not see any such behavior anywhere. The entire Laniakea cluster is moving in roughly the same direction.
The two scales, billions of light-years and hundreds of millions of light-years, are problematic for the UB. Neither should look like it does. Below these scales, in the millions of light-years and less, what the UB says is equally problematic.
If the Milky Way is Orvonton, even at five-hundred-thousand light-year across, the local universe of Nebadon is only one-hundred-thousandth part of it [UB 15:13.1]. Even were the Milky Way a sphere half a million light-years in diameter, each local universe would have a diameter considerably less than ten-thousand light-years (5.3 thousand by my calculation, but let’s be generous). Inside its volume must be ten-thousand system and one-hundred constellation headquarter collections (100 constellations each with 100 systems) [UB 15:2.4, 15:2.5]. Each system would be only a few hundred light-years across (500 by my calculation see below and note on the calculation at end of essay).
The UB claims that these headquarters worlds are lit by suns that give light but no heat [UB 15:6.3, 15:7.1], but it also says that the people of these worlds can see ordinary stars external to the headquarters. If they can see out, we can see in. Astronomers have mapped every star within a thousand light-years of Earth in every conceivable electromagnetic wavelength from the X-ray to the infrared. If, in the volume encompassed by that radius from Earth, any stars radiate visible light but no infrared, we would surely have noticed. A system-headquarters collection of 50 worlds [UB 15:7.5] with multiple suns, of any sort, only a few hundred light-years distant would stand out.
If the Milky Way is really the local universe, and Laniakea is the superuniverse, the nearest system headquarters could be thousands of light-years distant, and we have not mapped every star out that far. But there is no support for this idea in the UB. The book’s “Milky Way” is bigger than our Milky Way, by a factor between two and five (diameter, not volume and depending on where one draws the satellite boundary), not the two-hundred times required by associating Orvonton with Laniakea! There is only a convenient coincidence, astronomer’s estimates (which could be far off) of about one-hundred-thousand galaxies in Laniakea.
Below the galactic scale, there are, in the UB, many troubling assertions about stars. Astronomers estimate our sun will remain stable for another four or five billion years. The UB says twenty [UB 41:9.5]. This discrepancy is nothing like the all-or-nothing universe morphology problem. If stars act on (or are acted upon) energies we cannot detect (next paragraph), they might well extend the stable life of a star.
The book says that “ordinary sun(s)” can give out heat and light for trillions of years [UB 15:6.4]. Not only is this in conflict with modern astrophysical theory supported by observation, but it contradicts the twenty-five billion figure in paper 41. To some extent, the contradiction depends on what is meant by “ordinary suns” (see below on red-dwarfs). The book also says that suns, under certain (otherwise unspecified) conditions, transform and accelerate “energies of space which come their way established space circuits” [UB 15:6.4], implying the sun’s heat is being utilized, or augmented, in ways that should impact our observations. If stars, our own and others around us, are so affected by these energies their lifetimes extend by one or two orders of magnitude, our measurements of their light would be inconsistent with our astrophysical theories.
Astrophysics deals with the physics of stars, what makes them tick. The UB’s brief description of the process is consistent with what was known in the 1920s & 30s and remains true, if over-simplified, today. The UB description includes the special role of carbon in the fusion process [UB 41.8.1], something first proposed (by George Gamow) in 1923. The first sentence of this paragraph is put interestingly: “In those suns which are circuited in the space-energy channels, solar energy is liberated by various complex nuclear-reaction chains, the most common of which is the hydrogen-carbon-helium reaction.”
Gamow won a Nobel prize in physics for his discovery of this process. All-stars, at least all-stars very roughly similar to our sun, undergo the same carbon-catalytic reaction. Perhaps all those we see are circuited, but more problematic, the parameters of our equations and their theoretical results exactly match our observations of stellar behavior without having to account for gaps where contributions from “space-energy channels” had any impact. If undetectable energies were affecting solar output, the stellar spectrum should not be what our equations predict, and we observe.
There is no astrophysical evidence that any of the tens of thousands of stars we’ve examined and cataloged are affected by anything other than their gravity, pressure, temperature, and metal content reflected in their spectrum. The first three determine the rate of hydrogen fusion, while the metals content, in conjunction with ongoing gravitational contraction [UB 41:8.2], determine what happens after the hydrogen supply is nearly exhausted. Our sun, says the UB, will undergo a period of stable decline as long as it’s present middle age and youth combined, a total of over fifty billion years [UB 41:9.5]. Do encircuited suns decline? If so, is encircuitment the difference between the UB’s fifty-billion-year stable life and decline, and the more disconcerting six-to-eight billion-years before, in the estimate of astrophysicists, our declining sun becomes a red giant and swallows the orbits the inner planets? The UB tells us that some suns go on forever [UB 41:7.7].
Modern astronomy does recognize that the most common stars in the universe (perhaps half of all-stars) are red-dwarfs and some astronomers believe such stars might shine for a trillion years (a hundred-billion being a more commonly cited figure) given only the hydrogen with which they begin their lives. Still, the red-dwarfs we observe and have cataloged match our theoretical predictions, again having nothing to do with unknown “energies of space”. They appear to use their fuel as we would expect, given their mass, temperature, and so on.
We also know that such suns are electromagnetic nightmares not suitable for biological evolution as we imagine that process. But what the UB considers habitable and what present science thinks are “habitable limits” are very different (see UB paper 49). Unlike the stars, galaxies, and universe shape, neither our concept of life nor our extrasolar planetary astronomy is up to the task of comparing what we observe to what the UB says is the case. Holding judgment in abeyance, however, is not simply to accept the UB. Like the “Maltese Cross”, space respiration, and alternate-rotations, we have to assume that God (and his agents) could foster such radical living forms. All the same, worlds without atmosphere [UB 49:6] hosting living beings may be as much a fantasy as the other three problematic claims noted above.
There are issues with UB “space science” at every level, and the problems get worse as one goes up in scale. Whether our sun is stable for six billion or twenty-five-billion more years is immaterial to our short lives on Earth. The superuniverse problem is a little worse. If a seraphic transport can travel three times light speed [UB 23:3.2] and spiritually advanced mortals awaken three periods (Earth days?) after death [UB 49:6.8], then the system headquarters can be, at most, three light-days distant (this conundrum well noted by readers fifty years ago). Given that our nearest stellar neighbor is four light-years away, I should not have to explain why there can be nothing as significant as a system headquarters (fifty worlds and some number of suns) so close to us.
Other calculations produce similarly problematic results. There are one-billion systems in Orvonton (100,000 LU x 10,000 systems/LU). Even if we assume Orvonton is a sphere (very generous) with a radius of two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand light-years, the average radius of each system could be no more than two-hundred-and-fifty light-years (see note at the end of the essay on this calculation). Although out of reach for a three-day trip at triple-light-speed, that distance is close enough for us to detect a collection of so many worlds and suns.
Moving up the galaxy scale to supercluster, the conflict between the UB and present astronomical data gets worse. George Park is one of the “UB astronomers” who introduced the idea that Orvonton is the Laniakea supercluster spanning nearly one-hundred-million light-years, ignoring the UB’s plain statement of Orvonton’s size (500,000 light-years). John Causland also has a presentation on “UB Astronomy”, which he introduces by noting that the book’s claims do not match modern observations, but, he says, if we look at what is said in the context of 1920s cosmology, the book makes sense. That isn’t quite true. Even in the 1930s astronomers understood enough about the physics of light, and telescopes were powerful enough, to reject UB claims about space respiration and alternate-rotations if astronomers had become aware of them. Back in those days, the book’s assertions about planets, suns, and even the Milky Way, plausible-seeming for the average educated reader, would be rejected by real astronomers. In particular (and especially), the “maltese cross”, the idea of a bilaterally-symmetrical universe, is not to be found in the cosmological literature of any period.
Acknowledging the “times of the writing”, however, does not address the bigger problem: modern observations at both astronomical and cosmological scales make much of what the UB claims is the case not merely implausible, but impossible! There is nothing about Laniakea that looks like the UB’s description of a more-or-less orderly super-universe, and as we pan out to a view billions of light-years across, the universe seems nothing like what the UB describes! Not only are there millions of superclusters in every direction, but there isn’t the slightest evidence of a massive gravitational center in any direction!
UB theology is centered on God, who is spirit. But God himself resides on Paradise, which has to be the center of the physical universe! In the time-space realms, the UB informs us, spiritual beings live on physical worlds [12:8.1]. We cannot elide the headquarters location problem by suggesting that collections of architectural worlds (and in particular their suns) cannot be detected with our physical instruments. Where are they? Moving up in scale, we have the problem of reconciling the UB picture with an isotropic and centerless universe originating in a big bang and now cooled down for near fifteen-billion years.
Our theories of the big bang well describe everything we observe in the physical cosmos given an age of fifteen-billion years. All the present controversy surrounding the big bang is about what happens in its first three seconds! Three seconds marks the time of nucleosynthesis, the formation of protons and neutrons, nuclei of hydrogen, helium, and a little lithium, from the quark and radiation soup. Despite many unknowns, the structure of the present universe we see follows comfortably from our theories beginning with nucleosynthesis! To suggest that all our evidence-based conclusions are an illusion is not credible, revelatory claims notwithstanding.
These cosmological and astronomical issues do not render post-mortal survival and ascension impossible. The UB’s God certainly has the power to arrange for survival and ascension into and through the universe as we perceive it, not to mention creation via a big bang. If the revelators could forecast our scientific progress for the next thousand years (their record is terrible less than 100 years out), why make up this fantasy universe architecture, and why say so much about cosmology and astronomy that today, only 66 years after publication, is so obviously false? If the revelators were not permitted to reveal the big bang, why make up a fantasy? Why not merely tell us about the soul, post-mortal personality reconstitution, the general nature of descendent personalities, and so on without embedding the descriptions in a fantasy universe?
My theory is that it all has something to do with drama. One purpose of the book’s ascension story is to drive home the truth that perfection in God’s terms is a long educational process. If the revelators merely described the survival mechanism without a physical stage on which all plays out (not to mention many now-unlikely-to-be-true statements about the physical and biological history of Earth — a subject for another paper), the UB would be half its size. Readers would come away with little in the way of appreciation for the scope and complexity of the process. In short, the authors created a fantasy universe to emphasize the drama and adventure of the ascension. The purpose of the fantasy universe is literary!
______ A few notes ______
NOTE: Evidence for the Big Bang
Assuming the big bang, the temperature of the “first light” (photons) in the universe (the Cosmic Microwave Background [CMB]) was calculated in the early 1950s (by Russian physicist George Gamow) and found, in 1965 to be within four degrees (Kelvin) of its predicted value. Importantly this radiation is identical (down to ten-thousandths of a degree) in every direction we look, impossible if UB cosmology were true.
Assuming the big bang, physicists (in the 1970s) realized there must be a background neutrino temperature a little cooler than the background photon temperature. This difference is due to the universe becoming transparent to neutrinos three seconds after the big bang, while photons are not liberated from the radiation for three-hundred-seventy thousand years (see the “recombination event”). The neutrino background temperature was measured in 2010 and found to be one-one-hundredth of a degree off its predicted value.
Assuming the big bang, the pressure of the early universe would cause compression waves to bounce around through the initially very dense and hot universe; literally reflecting off the limits of the universe at that time. Sound is a compression wave, and this prediction means that the expanding universe would have “rung like a bell” for a period. As the universe expanded, the wavelength of these echoes lengthens their frequency drops. Eventually (at recombination, see link above), the density of the expanding universe drops below the value required to support compression waves leaving a frozen wave, a small density gradient in the distribution of matter reflected in the microwave background. Cosmologists predicted the frequency and amplitude of this frozen wave (and its first few harmonics) in the late 20th Century. In the first decade of the 21st Century cosmologists measured both to be exactly what was predicted (see “The Music of the Big Bang”  by Amadeo Balbi, and these links [graph], [article]).
When instruments became sensitive enough, cosmologists found tiny differences (ten-thousandths of a degree) in the CMB. The big bang theory says these small differences, mapped accurately enough, should predict the present distribution of galaxies (the slightly cooler spots being where galactic clusters would form). Such accurate mapping was achieved in the 2010s, and the map does indeed predict precisely where galactic clusters are found today.
The distribution of stars, their color and size, along with our calculations of stellar life well matches (it is what we would expect to find) a roughly fifteen-billion-year-old universe!
Item (1) above was the first evidence of the big bang. Items (2-4) would be extraordinarily coincidental if the big bang is not real.
NOTE: Calculation of System (for example Satania) radius. Assume Orvonton is a sphere of radius 250,000ly
Find cubic light-years in Orvonton (radius of 250,000ly) Pi(2.5x10e5)e3 = 4.9x10e16 = culyOrv
Find the cubic light-years in a system. There are 1 billion systems in Orvonton (100.000 local universes times 100 constellations times 100 systems (4.9x10e16/1x10e9) = 4.9x10e7 culySys
Find radius cubed of system (culySys/Pi) = 15,605,095
Take cube root of radius-cubed for radius = 249.9 light-years!