Who Are They



This is a tricky one. My Monkey Logic column started out as a kind of joke. Look! Ha Ha! We are Monkeys! We think we are soo smart! Typical human hubris! But as I wrote the pieces, it turned out the hubris was mine. I’d believed the insight that ‘we are animals’, was quirky enough to riff a few amusing essays off of. Perhaps I might make a few people think, I thought. Maybe nudge a few into changing their environments to make life a bit more comprehensible to a poor perplexed Monkey cowering in each of their heads.

Writing the essays, I got pulled into thinking about primate hard wiring; how each generation of our species learnt how to survive sharing a patch of forest/savanna/classroom with angry, chest-beating Alphas. I mused at how, over millions of years, lippy apes, who pissed off the Alphas, got beaten to death with branches before bringing children into the world; evolution informing us, in its typical blunt fashion, that it’s best to not mess with the Alpha; not to question power.
We are herd animals, or troop animals, which is basically the same thing. We no longer live in the jungle or on the open savanna, but we still have that old Monkey Logic running in our ape minds. Logic built to make the Alpha happy. Our behaviour is wired to anticipate what the Alpha wants: don’t sleep with his mate, don’t rock the boat, go along with the latest fashion, aspire to buy a Rolex, align with consensus opinions, do what you are told! OBEY!

I stopped finding it funny. My writing may have suffered. Sorry about that. Things were serious. It looked like human behaviour really was dominated by subconscious forces; animal emotions; evolutionary heuristics; MonkeyLogic if you will.

I am not burying the lead. I promised to reveal who THEY are, and I will, I wanted to set the evolutionary stage first. So, here goes, who are THEY?

At one level they are our own creations. Psychological pathologies personified. Mental demons projected into the world. If you are familiar with the film, they are the monsters from Forbidden Planet.

We are simps [not chimps, look it up], sycophants. 80% of us will never comment on the emperor’s lack of clothes, however much his nudity puts us off our soup. There has to be a THEY because our primate programming needs something to put on the pedestal waiting in our minds. We want to read about their affairs and what appliances they have in their kitchens. 80% of us need this pointless nonsense in our lives. It doesn’t matter that they are dumb Apes like us. We don’t care. If the troop decides they are the Alphas, we are programmed to care who they sleep with and whether they bake good cakes.

We imagine our masters into existence. We make rods for our own backs - then we hand them to anybody with a blue tick, a black AmEx, or golden Rolex.

But most of THEM, the people we look up to, are just as confused as we are. They have more stuff, but they are shaved-apes way out of their depths, just like us, except they are often less happy and more stressed. They don’t really understand how they got into the first-class line in the first place. They suspect it might have something to do with all the handbags and expensive shoes they own, but they can’t be sure. They never had to clean the toilet and they don’t know why. This scares them. They worry that if they say or do the wrong thing, somebody might make them put on a pair of marigold yellow gloves and start! The last thing these imposter-alphas want is to draw attention to themselves. They suspect there might be real monsters out there ready to tear them apart if they slip up. They are right.

Most people don’t have the capacity to lead. Of those who do, most are unwilling to make the impossible moral choices necessary to perform the job. Anybody who does step up in this world of terrible compromises must therefore be both capable AND ruthless. This doesn’t necessarily make them bad. There are a few good leaders who are both of these things. They understand that talking softly and carrying a big stick means that sometimes you might have to hit somebody over the head with it. But how does this hypothetical ethical leader react when the people who need hitting are innocents? What if not hitting them only hurts more innocents? What if the trolley will always crush someone and you need to choose who… NOW! CHOOSE! WHO DIES?! CHOOSE! What if there are no good answers? What do you do then? Even if you started out as one of that vanishingly small fraction of people who can, want to, and want to for the right reasons? What then? Confronted with the impossibility of the task? I think you give up in the face of this abyss. You retreat into delusion. You convince yourself you are in charge while abdicating real responsibility to others. You take the payoff that is waiting; million dollar speaking engagements; chauffeur driven transport for the rest of your life; fancy trips to Caribbean islands on private jets with pretty young stewardesses. You never admit these are payoffs. You allow the tricky decisions to pass to the bankers, the generals, and the regulators. You displace any residual horror by speaking at the UN, choosing a new CEO, shopping for a new housekeeper, or attending TED or WEF. You plug your ears to the screams.

This is true for those leaders who didn’t start out as psychopaths in the first place. The less said about the latter the better.
As I warned, it is tricky. There is no cabal of Illuminati huddling in Bavarian castles, discussing the bloodline of the Son of Man [well there might be, but it would be a side show]. There is instead a lot of ignorance, a lot of bureaucracy, and a little evil.

So, to summarize, THEY are:

Imposters; most are simply the 20% the universe decides will always have the lion’s share, regardless of any underlying meritocratic justification [check out Zipf’s law, or the 80–20 rule ]. The wiring of our monkey brains ignores any obvious deficits and insist their ideas and wellbeing must be lofted above our own petty wants and needs. Out of their depth, these individuals are often scared and confused. They are always looking for a real Alpha to agree with:

Leaders; the few good men and women who start out clean only to shatter on contact with the fractal fuckedness of the modern world. Minds reeling from the horror they delegate to:

Bureaucracies; endless committees, algorithms, think-tanks, and corporations. All the non-human entities that have intent without compassion or comprehensions, and which are, in turn, run by:

Psychopaths; those who understand it all and just kind of like the sticky feel of our blood on their hands.

THEY is a gestalt beast, easier to picture as a ravenous, sadistic evil from another dimension, than a collection of policies and peons (think British Telekom or AT&T).

THEY is a mob of emergent, crowd-sourced evil made up mostly of dumb b-list celebrities and mundane-middle-managers.

THEY is the MAN. It doesn’t matter if they are in denial, deliberately ignorant of the horror their compliance is supporting, uncomprehending algorithms maximising numbers that have no meaning, or cold technocrats playing with lives as a child plays with Lego.

THEY is a fortification of compliance; an adobe insect castle built from our own archaic behaviour to protect the bloated corrupted grubs of power skulking in dark tunnels below.

THEY is POWER.

Whenever I suspect I might be one of THEM, I use whatever puny levers of power are available to me, to make sure I remain one of US instead.

In the next and final essay in this series, I am going to tell you what THEY want.

Monkey Logic no.7 – Means to an End



Some things are just that; a means to an end.
Sex for example. Sex is an intermediate step in the process of reproduction; but in the heat of the moment, as one is energetically pursuing the means, it is easy to let the end — a demanding, screaming ball of potential humanity — entirely slip one’s mind. Chimps, and certainly Bonobos, make the same error. They are all at it all the time, implementing every possible topological variation, most of which are logistically unlikely to have anything to do with reproduction. Pursuing the means, not the end.

Money is another means. Money is not happiness. It can’t buy you love, but it can be exchanged for things that make survival or reproduction more likely — e.g. food or sports cars. But most of our waking lives are lived as if Money was the end itself.

Money is not happiness.
The map is not the territory.
The stock market is not the economy.

Apes don’t fetishize money as we Saps do. This is not because they are too dim to understand it. They are quite capable of grasping it as a means to an end. This is witnessed through the sad story of Chantek the Orangutan. Chantek was brought up by humans at the University of Tennessee. He was taught sign-language, attended class, and was introduced to money in the form of washers he could exchange for ice-cream. Unfortunately, as he reached puberty, he became a little bit too frisky for a university sociology department and had to be moved to a far less stimulating environment — I told you it was a sad story. He was locked in his cage for many years and there he frustrated his jailors by regularly using his incredible monkey-strength to twist open the bolts of his enclosure to collect washers. It is possible that Chantek idolized the washers themselves, but I suspect it is far more likely that he was just acquiring the means, hoping one day to be in a position to exchange them again for the end — ice cream.

Money is not an end. It is a story. Only if we all believe, is it able to perform its function and facilitate the transfer of resources, labour, and cognition. This is not to be disparaging. Money has proven to be a very useful story which has enabled us Saps to achieve indistinguishable-from-magic improvements in the routine of our daily lives, but it is not an end. It should also never be taken for granted. Every now and again, people tend to wake up, look around in confusion at all the mangy notes overflowing their wheelbarrows or stuffed into the suitcases littered around their apartments, and wonder what the heck to do with all this suddenly meaningless waste paper—and, more importantly, how they are going to pay for dinner.

At our current point in the money-cycle story-arc, governments are squirting cash about like foam cannons at an Ibiza beach rave. The plot holes in the story have become so glaring that even a casual audience now has difficulty continuing to suspend its disbelief. Typically when a story-arc ‘jumps the shark’ like this, the viewers move on to something new; but this is much easier with a Netflix series than with an intersubjective shared narrative which supports a tower of leveraged obligations rising out of the primal jungle into the teetering heights of almost-godhood…

Money is a means to an end. Poor people know this because it is almost immediately transformed into real things like shoes and food.

Ultra-rich people don’t understand this anymore because shoes and food just are; like air.

Money ceases to be a means because a surplus of everything makes the connection between money and value tenuous. Money becomes the end when it is the only way you can differentiate yourself from those pretenders down the road…

This is supposed to be a bright upbeat issue of Monkey Logic, so here goes for a happy ending —

We live in a period of ‘late-stage-capitalism’. The ageing system’s loopholes have been so thoroughly excavated, and the current system is so hollowed out, that it is no longer structurally sound. Its rickety nature shows up as maladies like the massive and unjustifiable wealth disparity between the richest and the poorest; or the suppression of innovation — technological or social — by an inchoate cabal of loyalty signalling stooges all silently conspiring to suppress any change which might threaten their shadowy masters of capital. Think cigarettes and petrol engines!

When it first occurred to me that money was on the way out — probably around 2007 when the previous mini-cycle was wrapping up its season-arc with a sub-prime mortgage finale — I was a little freaked out. Since then, however, I have noticed the first beams and struts of a new system being put into place. This act is coming to an end and the set of the next scene is already being constructed in the wings — I know I am being rather free with my metaphors here.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) says we should pay everybody a basic living wage. People used to laugh—who will pay? But this was before printing a Trillion Euro’s became so mundane that it is now unworthy of even mentioning.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) goes further, suggesting that printing money is actually fine, as long as real people who do stuff, have a use for it. When it starts piling up in wheelbarrows — or ideally a little before then — MMT says just raise taxes.

Both MMT and UBI can work together to feed money into the system bottom-up—poor people first—which seems more sensible to me than letting already rich people magic it up and then spend most of it on bonuses to themselves or in buying more stocks of the banks they already own and which incidentally are the same corporate-persons whose incestuous, nepotistic relationships with government allows them to magic the money up in the first place. Whatever trickle is left, after the ghoulish servants of undead capital have slathered themselves in its greasy green caress, can finally, grudgingly, be loaned, with interest, to real people who actually need it to feed themselves or start companies which build spaceships or windmills.

This is the tortuous route that money must take today to get into the hands of the people who need it. It’s like those wildlife films of wildebeest fording a river full of crocodiles. Some money makes it to the other side — across actual shop counters — but that’s only because so much of it was plunged into the river that the corporate-crocodiles couldn’t physically snaffle it all.

Money, trying to make the hazardous journey into your wallet.

Most of the money today is with the ultra-rich, so most money is not used for its original purpose of purchasing stuff. It is used instead to status-signal and compare net-worth high-scores. Because of where it sits, the value of most of the world’s money comes not from its scarcity or utility, but from the media’s traumatic, PTSD inducing daily reminders to the super-rich of what happens to people who don’t have it.

When UBI takes care of the people at the bottom, perhaps the people at the top will be a little less terrified of losing some of their hoards.

Money, or at least fiat currency, is so last-century. It is time for something new, but this time we need to be clear on what the end is before we try and come up with a new means; otherwise, we could just listen to Chantek and go with Monkey Logic.