Two books that should top any reading list for progressives who believe in “winning the future” by waging war against its current inhabitants are H. G. Wells’ classic The Time Machine and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan. The former’s narrative has entered the culture, especially through a film version that appeared in 1960, starring Rod Taylor. The first speaks volumes about cowardice, bravery, and the end of history, while the second book brilliantly demonstrates the uncertainty of it all.
The Time Machine has a long account about “Time Traveler’s” adventures into the future, but the film version contains dialogue between Taylor’s character and a bevy of milquetoast-sweet and laid-back Eloi, who pass the hours munching on oversized fruit heaped on tables inside a large, squeaky-clean pavilion. Miraculously, the Eloi speak English, which Time-Traveler discovers is their only virtue. When he questioned where all the food came from, an Eloi lad simply said: “It grows. It always grows.” Time-Traveler pressed his incurious hosts for more information, pointing out that such plenitude needed to be “cultivated, planted, nurtured,” but received only a shrug in response. In short, the Eloi didn’t know the source of their life’s sustenance; they just took it for granted.
That was likewise true for the dinner siren, which summoned them to the realm of the Morlocks, who Time Traveler learned bred the Eloi for nutritional purposes. Nasty critters, those Morlocks: they had hair all over their bodies and bad breath. For all that, one can’t really blame them for eating Eloi, who are fair-haired, frolicking, easily herded, and undoubtedly yummy, but otherwise quite useless in a world where the Morlocks did all the work.
Now to Taleb’s book. The Black Swan is an explanation of how events explode into history, destroy expectations, and define much of what happens afterwards. To qualify as a Black Swan event, an occurrence must: (1) be an outlier, “as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations;” (2) it must have an enormous impact, and, (3) “in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.” Taleb goes on to say that “a small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives.” In short, like it or not, we live in a world created by a handful of Black Swans.
The relevance of these points is demonstrated by the first two years of the Obama administration. The executive branch and its cohorts in Congress represent perfectly the intellectual superstitions of the American Eloi-political left, with its fantasies of a world filled with windmills the size of the Eiffel Tower, “clean” carbon-free, cost-free energy sources, and national budgets where spending trillions of borrowed dollars somehow saves money and bowing to dictators generates national respect. All this from Eloi-dominated and taxpayer-subsidized institutions where accomplishment is measured in words generated—not in machines made, crops harvested, or goods produced.
All of which would not matter if it were not for the endless assault on this country’s Morlocks—the producers—who, being smarter than their future counterparts, respond either by not producing or outsourcing. Like the Eloi in Wells’ book, the American left does not know where all the stuff it uses comes from. Job growth, iPads, and foodstuffs just magically appear, and progressives assume that regardless of what they do to strangle creativity and production, still “it grows. It always grows.” Further, unlike their progeny in The Time Machine, in this world Eloi eat Morlocks, instead of the other way around. It’s no wonder why there are fewer producers around to keep our clueless non-producers satisfied.
American Eloi find this astonishing, of course, along with a stubborn nine percent unemployment rate and continued resistance to government healthcare, both of which violate their sense of history as consisting of an orderly progression in stages that culminate in an omnipotent administrative state. But The Black Swan teaches us that history proceeds in leaps and cataclysms, not stages. Wars, assassinations, revolutions, and natural disasters are Black Swan events, perfectly “post-dicted,” but by definition, impossible to predict. And the consequences are huge and horrible.
Still, the temptation to predict remains, as Taleb points out, so let’s take a stab at it. A producer’s version of civil disobedience or revolution will result not in a gradual decline but rather in a precipitous drop in economic production, accompanied by a leap in the unemployment rate, public union strikes, a surge in energy costs, and a collapse in the stock market. Throw in a foreign-policy disaster for good measure, and you have a flock of Black Swans, to which the federal government will react, if the past is any guide, in the stupidest ways imaginable in order not to let good crises go to waste. The results will be a country unrecognizable from the one we currently inhabit.
Possible? Of course. Or not.
But to paraphrase the Eloi response given to Time Traveler, this much can be said about Black Swans: “They happen. They always happen.”