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High Crimes and Misdemeanors — The Further Adventures of Greg and Cindy Markowitz

I had the most bizarre experience last week.

Cindy invites her Trusted Lieutenant Smith over to the house this afternoon to talk business. There’s a strange woman with him. MUCH hotter than he usually manages.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of Smith. You know when someone’s just too good to be true? That’s Smith. He’s WAY too good at this stuff to be working for a couple of amateurs like us. I had her ask him where he picked it up and he told her he’d worked for other dope organizations for the last 15 years. This is his profession. Actually money-laundering is his profession. And even though that’s not what we need right now, he also has the skills we do need.

Cindy: “Who’s she?”

Smith: “She’s my boss.”

Cindy:”Whaddaya mean *she’s* your boss? I’m your boss.”

Smith: “Mmmm… Not exactly…”

At that point I figure we’re both about to get shot. I’ve seen all those 1970s dealer movies. I know what the Godfather does when the Plucky Independents start cutting into his bottom line. He sends his Trusted Lieutenant to shoot them in the head.

But no. Smith’s purpose with us really is what he says it is. He really is helping us out. He’s just doing it on someone else’s orders. I never heard of anything like this. We eat into the mob’s business and they send one of their top guys to *help* us? I’m still processing this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m real happy I didn’t get shot that day. But still, this *is* weird.

I found out why they’re so interested in us. They’ve never seen a panic like the one that hit when our stuff ran out. Apparently nobody has. I just heard of somebody’s last gram (that I sell for $500 an ounce) going for $300 and somebody else’s going for $50 a tenth.

Also really cool watching Smith’s hot boss tonight calling other dealers and telling them, “Whaddaya mean you can’t tell me exactly which fentanyl analog is in your China White and exactly how much there is? This is 2017! You HAVE to give the customer that information!” We started that a few months ago, it’s now officially become a thing.


A couple-three days ago, Cindy’s former Trusted Lieutenant, Mark, shows up on our doorstep with this guy we’ve never seen before. This was exactly the behavior that made Cindy fire his ass in the first place. Anyway, he presented Sam as being in the landscaping business and we talked about that for a bit. I only ever worked at landscaping for one day, but even that was enough to get that Sam didn’t know the first fucking thing about it. Next day Sam comes back on his own. There’s no pretense about landscaping this time. He’s a smack dealer (Big surprise there, I don’t remember the last person in my home who wasn’t. It may have been before moving out here.) and he operates in the burbs. He really thinks we’re wasting our time in the hood selling to Mexicans, meth-heads and bikers. I noted that he failed to mention “niggers” in his list of undesirable clientele when the guy he’s trying to be without a doubt would have said it, filed that one away for later and kept listening. In fact, he says, we really ought to relocate and set up shop in his territory.

Wait, what? Who in the fuck invites the competition into their turf? Especially when we have (hope to have again, anyway) a product better than his that we can sell for a third the price. We can eat his lunch and he knows it. There’s got to be another shoe about to drop. A few more minutes, the big reveal comes out. He’s passing. His father is black and he’s passing. This is supposed to throw us off balance and if we were from here, it would have. While we’re pretending to process it, he gets his ask ready. Directing to me he says “It would really be for the best if you prepared Mark a hotshot. Would you be willing to do that?” I just growled at him “I didn’t hear that and you didn’t say it.” Then, the absolute gall of this guy, he directs the same question to Cindy sitting two feet away, like it hasn’t just been asked and answered. Cindy won’t cut me down in front of a stranger (Nor will I do the same to her) so she repeats what I said, word for word.

Then he says “You’re leaving me no choice. Is it OK with you if *I* cap him?” Now while neither Cindy nor I are murderers by nature, we’re also not going to stand in someone’s way unless we like you at least a little. That’s just… not our business. And the truth is, I never had any use for Mark, and Cindy has given him every chance in the world. So we both assured the guy we sure weren’t standing in his way. “Do what you need to do,” we both said. “That’s your thing. Now don’t get us wrong, it wouldn’t break our hearts if this happened, but we do not want anyone to do it for our benefit. That said, again, we’d shed no tears if it did in fact happen!”

Next morning, Cindy’s whole crew is here. I’m lying in bed trying to decide which end of it to puke off of. That’s how dry it is these days. I don’t know a single dealer in town who’s even able to feed his own habit right now. Anyway, yeah, my wife has a crew now. She never lied about what she was before I married her. First movie we ever watched together was Johnny Depp playing George Jung in “Blow”. She needed me to understand who I was getting involved with.

Then Mark shows up at the door. I have to figure at this point, he’s either clearly trying to goad me into fucking him up, or else legit does not have the basic social skills that say “You don’t show up unannounced at a woman’s door after sending them angry texts, nasty crank calls, and talking shit all over town about her.”

Panic ensues. If he sees the crew here he’s going to decide he was right all along that this was a big huge fake drought we’re pulling to try to cut him out. I get up slowly, open the door and tell Mark “you wait right fucking there I’m getting my boots,” and then bark at Cindy, “Get me my boots, wallet and car keys! I’m going to fix this once and for-fucking-all!” At this point I have to do the fake badass routine. This is the midwest. If I let another man disrespect my wife like this, nobody here will take me seriously. Ever. I’m furious he’s put me in this position and feel like death warmed over at the same time. But in a few seconds pissed off at this asshole wins out over sick, so I get my boots, keys, and wallet, and walk out.

I stagger outside and lead Mark to my car. Predictably, he starts spewing his schizo-paranoid bullshit at me. Usually I got no patience at all for that shit, but today it’s going to lead Mark right where I need him to go. So I play right back at him. “I’m taking you someplace safe. I’m parking you at Frank’s place for the day. You got a kid in Portland you never saw, right? In a couple of hours, someone you thought you could trust is going to give me a one-way bus ticket to Portland and a wad of cash to get you set up when you get there. Now, do you understand what happens next if you don’t take it?” He says yes.

I tell him, “I’m not sure you do. I know you’re a tough guy. You’re not afraid to die. It only hurts for a minute. But think about me. I’m a fucking amateur! I’m a little rich-kid pussy! I just wanted to sell some dope and make some money. I never cut up no dead body before! I never drove around with fucking body parts in the trunk of my car before! I know *you’d* never run from a fight, but think about me!”

Frank was none too happy when I showed up on his doorstep and even less happy when he saw I had Mark with me. Frank is a bigtime importer. None of these little street pissants want to get on his bad side. But how he maintains that is by not letting the street into his home. I’m asking him to change what’s worked for him for years. I begged, he agreed — until sundown. And ‭I owe him a big one to be claimed later. Ha! Six hours? My dog could pull this off in six hours. Nothin’ easier! Before I drive off, I shout to Frank “Don’t let him make any phone calls. I don’t want anybody to know he’s here.” More to the point, I want him isolated so he can’t check my story and find out what a line of bullshit I just fed him.

I get the bus ticket. One way to Portland, as promised. Mark never told me his last name, but I overheard it once, so I got it printed on the ticket. Back to my place, tell Cindy’s crew what I’ve done, pass the hat around. Or try to anyway. But imagine this, the elite of the Midwest’s dealing scene is assembled in my home and not one of them has two nickels to rub together much less one to give me. Myself, I got maybe 20 bucks left on my card.

Alright, no cash. Pigfuckers that they are, I will remember this. I’m taking a man who never asked for a chemical timebomb to go off in his head, and I’m sending him to a city where he’s never been, where there’s exactly one person who knows his name and exactly zero who want to talk to him and I’m sending him there with lunch because that’s all my card will handle right now. Three granola bars, an apple, a banana, two bottles of water, a pack of cigarettes and a mickey of Southern. I asked the cashier to put the booze through separately because I wasn’t sure I had enough to cover it.

Take him to the bus station. Departure minus 45 minutes. If he’s going to have a brain-blow, now is the time. I’ve been keeping his ticket in my pocket as a mind-game. I made it something he has to want and ask for instead of something being forced on him. Now the whole fucking crew shows up, minus Cindy. Cindy could forgive Hitler, once, if he begged and was super sorry and sincere. But there’s a reason her favorite t-shirt reads “Sweet as sugar, cold as ice. Cross me once and I’ll shoot you twice!” So I’m not a bit surprised she didn’t show up.

Now everybody wants to be my best friend and Mark’s. Fuck ’em in the ear! If they can keep Mark distracted for 45 minutes until final boarding call, I’ll take it. But by no means will I confuse that with doing the heavy lifting where they left me on my own. Tick, tick, tick, and finally it comes. Final boarding call for Chicago, New York and points east. I put my arm around Mark and start fast-talking the busdriver. “My friend’s been on the street for a while, he hasn’t got ID but the ticket is legit, I myself paid cash for it, paid it to that woman behind the counter, she’ll remember me…” Driver buys it. Lets Mark board the bus. Then there’s a half hour delay for God knows what. I plant myself against the window looking out at the bus, and brace my arm against the sill so I don’t fall down. But I need to see it. This ain’t done until the bus pulls out of the lot with Mark on it. And I need to see it happen.

The station security guard doesn’t like what I’m doing. I’m not breaking any rules, but it’s still suspicious as hell. I give him the Manson stare and he finds pressing business in a back room. Finally, finally, could not have happened at a better fucking time, the bus leaves. I walk out with it, just so I can see it disappear into the distance with our problem on it.

Back to the house, they tell me I saved Mark from another hit, besides Sam’s threat. Maxie — the horse veterinarian chick with the horse-sized habit — has money, and she paid some meth-head to cap Mark. Note to self: Maxie needs a talking-to if she wants to keep hanging around my house. I bet she never even looked at what the murder clearance rate in this town is. It’s 86%. And what characteristic do the other 14% share that she doesn’t have? I’m going to guess the ability to threaten a shooter already in police custody with a fate far worse than lethal injection is part of it.

The truth of it is I was told Mark was greenlit three times, not twice. It just so happens I know a bit more about the third story than the guy telling it to me. Yeah, we sold some dope to a Son of Silence, yeah, they probably got a “no hypes, no pipes” policy like most bikers do, yeah the guy was found dead with a needle in his arm and our dope in his bloodstream. All of that’s true. But he left a note. “Goodbye cruel world! I don’t want to live after my girl left me. And so I’m deliberately slamming my entire supply. Right now.” Couldn’t have cleared me better if I wrote it myself. I let it be known I was ready to go talk to the Sons and explain myself. But they already had the note. His handwriting, his signature. They accepted it at face value, didn’t think I could tell them anything they didn’t already know.

All our dealers have strict instructions to report even the slightest health problem of any customer up the chain and if one of our customers dies — of any cause whatever — no detail is too trivial or extraneous for me to want to hear it. We’ve reformulated our carrier medium twice, just to help the IV users avoid skin infections. We tried telling them to just snort it but realized in a matter of weeks that once people get used to needles they inevitably go back to them. It’s this bizarre thing where they basically forget there are other ways to get dope into your bloodstream.

I found a scientific paper from 1914 that cross-indexes all the common bugs, including staph and aureus, the two worst skin infections, with all the common sugars, and I picked the one that no bug you’re likely to find in your skin can eat. It’s an obscure wood sugar, similar to xylose, but Wal-Mart sells it as an artificial sweetener under the name “Truvia”. Much safer than the lactose/mannitol cuts the industry has been using since forever.

We’ve had three false alarms, including that biker. We got one late night report from an hysterical woman that we’d poisoned her brother. The morning paper gave the cause of death as multiple gunshot wounds. The truth didn’t make her happy, and I never thought it would… but it got her to stop talking shit about us. We got another saying Mark had called 911, and then bolted when a cancer patient overdosed. Not cool in a state with a Good Samaritan law. The guy who phones in the overdose is un-fucking-touchable, no matter what he sold to who. We were able to establish that the building doorman saw cancer guy walking around the lobby six hours after the supposed overdose, so that one’s not on us either. We’ve had two overdose incidents that should not have happened, that are going to force some more changes in the way we do things, one where the guy was tagged and bagged before he woke up. But both times, the guy came all the way back. We’ve sold 2-3 thousand grams without killing a single person. We are on our way to proving what we set out to prove — that supernarcotics can be sold without killing anybody.

Does Life Imitate “Breaking Bad” or Does “Breaking Bad” Imitate Greg and Cindy Markowitz?

I bought some carfentanil on the darknet a while ago, decent quantity too, 200 milligrams, about the size of a bar-quarter of coke. I diluted it down using the procedure in “My Near-Death Fentanyl Experience” except I used a ratio of 1000 milligrams of sugar to 1 of carfentanil. Straight fent gets cut 100-to-1. Carfentanil, W-18 and alpha-methyl-fentanyl get cut 1000-to-1. There’s this new stuff, it’s not on the market yet but it probably will be, 4-carbo-ethoxy-fentanyl, another order of magnitude stronger, that’ll need a 10,000-to-1 cut. A 20 pound bag of sugar for a single gram of the drug. I wouldn’t begin to know how to handle that shit safely. Mask and gloves won’t do it. I’m guessing Level 3 Center for Disease Control protocols, maybe even Level 4.

I also added a few drops of blue food coloring, partly as a hat tip to Breaking Bad, partly to make it impossible for anyone to mistake it for heroin — or worse, to try and pass it off as heroin.

At or around this time I was whining to Cindy that I wanted to get some meth but I couldn’t afford to buy as big as my usual darknet vendor insisted on. There was a moving job we did a while back, it took me a week to do half of it, Cindy and a three man crew took another week to finish the other half. I needed to undo it all by myself in two days and I wanted my redneck rocket fuel to power through it.

She said she’d try to find something locally. And she did. From a fellow patient at her methadone clinic. The guy shorted her. I won’t say “burned” or “ripped off”. Those are strong words implying a degree of premeditation that I can’t prove. But I’m on 100% solid ground with “shorted”. She got exactly half the meth she paid him for. She ran into the guy again the day before I got back and his story was almost worth the amount of money that went missing. Almost.

Cindy and I are always on the lookout for people willing to try carfentanil and give us feedback on it. The stuff is new and there’s very little solid information out there about how it works. There’s no history of legitimate use on humans and most of the illegitimate use is as a heroin substitute/adulterant. We don’t really know that much about carfentanil as a recreational drug in its own right. See? We’re not asking people to get wasted just to get wasted. This is for Science. This is for expanding the scope of human knowledge. So when Cindy gave her clinic buddy a wad of cash to pay for my meth, she also gave him a quarter ounce of carfentanil cut down to the strength of high-quality heroin. Gave him the whole list of safety rules (snort bumps not rails, wait a good 20 minutes before taking more, etc.) and instructions to share it with his friends. Yes, she handed out wholesale quantities of supernarcotics in a methadone clinic. That’s the bit that makes it art.

Her friend didn’t have the best experience. One line knocked him flat on the floor, he grabbed onto a dresser to pull himself up and managed to pull the dresser down on top of him. He spent the evening lying on his floor underneath a piece of furniture. But that was Okaaayyy…

His friends were a different story. I don’t know what they’re used to getting around here, Mexican black tar kind of came and went a few years ago and I don’t know what’s around now. My wife goes to a methadone clinic so I suppose she could find out. But whatever it is, it don’t compare to carfentanil. This stuff blew them away. In my experience, needles are a one-way trip. Once a user starts injecting, they never go back to sniffing lines. For some reason, injecting carfentanil doesn’t seem to work so all these hard-core decades-long IV users are sniffing lines off a mirror like they were 16 again and loving it. One guy described sitting on the floor sniffing half-matchhead-sized bumps and drooling on his shoes for four hours. Shit, if I’d come up with this stuff in the 1980s when IV drug use was the most efficient transmission vector for AIDS — they’d have given me the Nobel Prize. Or 25-to-life. Not sure which.

These guys are begging for more of it. They’re telling their friends about “Blue Moon” and the new Heisenberg who makes it. It’s become a local dope scene legend. All of which means Cindy has the upper hand getting the short from the original deal fixed. She tells the guy, “The next thing that’s going to happen is you bring me what you owe me. After that, other things will happen but first you need to make this right.” In other words, she promised to wholesale carfentanil to him, let him be the guy who can meet the demand for this legendary new Blue Moon. I was out of town for a week. Imagine if I’d left for a month?

Thoughts on Fallacies

Once upon a time, Margaret Mead was in conversation, with James Baldwin, about the responsibility they felt for the future of their children.He said “The world is scarcely habitable for the conscious young… There is a tremendous national, global, moral waste.”


Mead replied: “I know.”


Baldwin went on: “And the question is, how can it be arrested? That’s the enormous question. Look, you and I both are whatever we have become, and whatever happens to us now doesn’t really matter. We’re done. It’s a matter of the curtain coming down eventually. But what should we do about the children? We are responsible; so far as we are responsible at all, our responsibility lies there, toward them. We have to assume that we are responsible for the future of this world.”


Mead eventually said: “then we come to a point where I would say it matters to know where we came from. That it matters to know the long, long road that we’ve come through. And this is the thing that gives me hope we can go further.” [1]

They were discussing racially motivated murders that happened during the Civil Rights movement, and they were discussing war and suffering around the world. Mead’s comment about the importance of knowing “the long, long road that we’ve come through” really jumped out at me, because Mead was an anthropologist.


Her “long road” is, therefore, not merely historical, it is evolutionary. Racism, terrorism, warfare and genocide are the scourges of history, but are they the scourges of our entire evolutionary past? Do they represent some inevitable and enduring aspect of human nature? There are many people who would affirm that humans have always been hierarchical, xenophobic, and violent; that these are characteristics deeply engrained in our nature.

To explain human capacity for tolerance, charity, and gentleness many scholars refer to the effects of civilization. Thus, Thomas Hobbes, for example, believed that humans in a “state of nature,” or what today we would call hunter-gatherer societies, lived a life that was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” in which there existed a “war of all against all.” This led him to conclude, as many apologists for states have since, that a stable society required leadership in order to control the rapacious violence that was inherent to human nature. In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Aynn Rand wrote that “Collectivism is the tribal premise of primordial savages who, unable to conceive of individual rights, believed that the tribe is a supreme, omnipotent ruler, that it owns the lives of its members and may sacrifice them whenever it pleases.” Rand advocated industrial capitalism to free humans of such fetters.

Meanwhile others were insisting that the human mind was a blank slate receptive to any social system to which it was exposed.

What a confused and tangled set of misconceptions about human nature! When otherwise educated people have a misconception, they tend not to take kindly to information that contradicts it. Of course, this is because they do not consider this to be a misconception, but rather a received truth. And, in the case of war, genocide, and xenophobia, after many thousands of years of such practices being widespread in those same societies responsible for recorded history, the idea that such behavior arises out of human nature is an understandable position.

So, what do we have to counter it? There are about a half dozen pieces of information: equally undeniable, that should give pause to even the most stalwart followers of Rand or Hobbes.

Fallacy #1) Collectivism suppresses individuality. This is clearly a fallacy. The human species is intensely pro-social, thus all human societies are collective endeavors, even capitalism. Thus the attribute “collectivism” does not entail suppression of creativity and individuality – even the most “simple” economies have innovation, as well as conservation of knowledge and technologies. Their values and ideologies tend to channel, not prevent, individualism.

Fallacy #2) That modern civilization decreases mortality due to violence. This one is still hotly disputed.  There are, in human societies, three main causes of deliberate death by conspecifics. These are a) interpersonal violence, b) lethal social controls, and c) warfare. Genocide can occur due to lethal social control of whole sub-communities, or it can occur in the context of warfare. While the first two categories of violent death appear to occur in most cultures, the final one, most definitely, does not. That warfare between groups of people in a hunter-gatherer economy is a rare occurrence does not appear to be an artifact of recent history: there is very limited evidence of inter-group warfare from the archaeological record from the Pleistocene, when everybody was a hunter-gatherer.

There IS some evidence of interpersonal violence, even cannibalism, but murder and eating people happens in contexts other than war. Even genocidal violence, as when a whole party of men women and children are massacred, can happen in other contexts, such as retaliatory vengeance, fear of disease or of spiritual contamination.

Deaths by violence appear to have declined in a linear fashion historically, as a result of either cultural or genetic evolution. This is not so much an empirical fallacy, but it is a statistical one, popularized by Steven Pinker in his book, The Better Angels of our Nature. Transforming data on violent death, from the absolute numbers into percentages of total population, tends to produce a picture of declining rates. This is perhaps partly an artifact of the simple fact that population growth, in most agricultural economic systems, has far exceeded the increases in violent deaths for several thousand years now, and this has most clearly become exponential in the last hundred years.

Accepting this idea of declining rates further implies that there is actually some sort of inevitable rate of general mayhem, murder and violent death baked into human nature. If so, we then must ask what might be the cause of such rates, if indeed they are some inevitable part of the human condition?

More pointedly, we might ask ourselves what, if anything, does this ubiquitous human irascibility, and occasional lethal violence, got to do with warfare? If we plot mayhem caused by violence, crime, malnutrition, disease, toxic exposure, and poverty, we could play the same statistical game. Indeed, some people have done so. But what evidence do we have that such things as epidemics of disease, and natural disasters resulting in starvation, occur at some regular rate linked to any particular economy?

Here we enter the intellectual territory well trodden by students of animal ecology. Population regulation is well understood in  other species. It appears to be achieved, in most natural wild populations of animals, by density dependent changes: as the numbers approach carrying capacity, deaths due to stress-induced aggression, reproductive failure, and diseases increase – even before signs of malnutrition appear.

The experimental research on rats done years ago, as well as studies of wild rabbit colonies, of wolf packs, of caribou, and of relationships between wild hares and lynx, are interesting in this regard. They show that populations begin to fall long before food supplies run out. In fact it appears now many of the deaths – even in epidemics, result not from the introduction of the novel microbes, but rather, due to the stress-induced drop in immunity attendant upon over-crowded populations. Moreover, deaths by violence also increase in many species when they are overcrowded. Hunter-gatherers generally live at lower population densities than people in other economies.

There is thus another whole category of causality that has an effect on mortality, and that is “structural” violence. This is down to racism, socio-economic inequality, and discrimination against “deviant” forms of sexuality, minority religious beliefs, or even political ideology (for example, communism has been targeted as well as capitalism). These permit levels of hardship and social rejection that create extreme stress for disadvantaged people, and such that their lives are often shortened. Even the life expectancy of their descendants, if they manage to have any, can be reduced.

Fallacy #3) Humans are naturally prone to xenophobia. This is also known as the “in-group vs out-group” to “tribal” tendency. Here we enter an other very contentious area.

However, I think it IS a fallacy.

Why? Well, for one thing, preference for, and defense of, known and familiar companions is not the same as hostility to unknown or unfamiliar people. There is no evidence that people, even in “a state of nature” are inevitably hostile towards strangers – or neighbors. Early encounters between explorers like Columbus and the native people of the Caribbean, for example, reported curiosity, friendly offers to trade, and high levels of hospitality – to the point that Columbus was enthusiastic about the potential enslavement of such innocents. The later hostility that greeted European settlers had as much to do with these early experiences of misunderstanding, and exploitation, as it did with the high handed attitude of new outsiders who came, clearly, with intent to usurp the lands of the people.

Children do not automatically show fear or dislike of age or play-mates based on skin color, dress, accents, or other aspects of superficial appearance. Experiments have shown, however, that assignment of people to “outsider” status does happen very quickly in young children. Rather than an evolved “tribal” tendency, an instinctive xenophobia, this is usually based on teachings.  It is when adults assignment of inferior moral or intellectual abilities – effectively “other-ing” those who are differentiated by appearance, behaviour, or symbolic tags. Jane Elliot’s work showed that children quickly catch on, and start actively being horrible even to former friends and classmates, and do so on the most arbitrary evidence of difference, such as eye colour.  All they need is a specific and authoritarian assertion that some tag indicates who ls an inferior or wicked person.

Three additional fallacies concern hypotheses about historical trends, that interrelate with one another to underpin the myth of progress.Fallacy #4)  Human life span has been increasing since “the Stone Age”.

This one is very pervasive. In fact, however, it is life expectancy at birth which varies a great deal between cultures, not the age to which people CAN live. Life span appears to be species specific: humans can live about 30 years longer than most great apes; but many decades short of the life span of certain species of trees and tortoises.

Life expectancy on the other hand, is a feature of death rates at various ages, and thus represents at statistical probability of surviving to various ages. In a cultural ecology with high rates of malnutrition, stress, or infection, life expectancy will be low. This was the case in 17th century France, where life expectancy for males was under 30, as it was throughout most of human history, and is among some Pygmies in the Congo today.


Life expectancy might very well have got far lower even in industrialized economies had it not been for the invention of vaccines and the discovery of antibiotics. Highest rates of mortality tend to occur at the youngest ages as immune systems get their training wheels, so prevention of death caused by microbes caused a massive jump in life expectancy over the past hundred years. Life expectancy varies with income throughout the industrial world, and tends to be lowest among colonized people, whether they are Scots in the UK or native Canadians or Aboriginal Australians today.


Fallacy #5) The assertion that all economies, prior to the industrial age, were inadequate in meeting human needs.

The entire colonial program summarized by the unfortunate phrase “White Man’s Burden” as well as the overt racism in Rand’s view of “primitives” stems from this. International food aid programs and the activities undertaken by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundation institutes to spread “green revolution” technologies, were often predicated on the assumption that traditional societies had woefully inadequate systems of farming and animal husbandry.

The idea is still very widespread that this inadequacy is responsible for malnutrition in the “third world”. This is related to the previous point, in that it mistakes the causes of innovation. Rand’s assumption was that things tend to be invented due to individual striving for perfection and are manifestations of genius.

In fact, there is considerable evidence that slash and burn horticulture, nomadic pastoral, and forager economies are adequate, and even produce abundant food at the cost of considerably less arduous labour than was typical of agricultural economies until the mechanization of farming.

Certainly these economies featured higher rates of infant and childhood mortality, but so did the pre-industrial feudal society.  Humanitarian concerns leading to widespread vaccination and health care also caused unprecedented population growth. What tends to be overlooked is the fact that this in turn led to changes in land use, which resulted in malnutrition, local competition over resources, and suffering due to violence, racism, and poverty.

The historically accurate view is that innovations tend to occur to solve problems. Seen thus, the whole industrial era could be seen as a scramble to innovate fast enough to solve all the problems arising from previous innovations!
Not so much progress, as redress, then.


Fallacy #6) The assumption that there is some kind of evolutionary master plan programmed into humans.

The evolutionary trajectory – both physical and economic, of our species, is often pictured as “progress”. Thus, cultural “evolution” is tacked on, to models of prehistory showing descent of bipedal creatures from tree-dwelling apes, gradual increases in brain size and technological sophistication, and the emergence of anatomically modern humans. 13938502_10154297498795549_7546104550049975277_n

This sometimes creates the impression that the growth of population, and the shifts in economic and organizational complexity, over the last 10,000 years, occurred because of increased cognitive prowess – or “genetic pacification” or “self-domestication”.  This is often presented as the march of progress, in human welfare and even in consciousness.


Fallacy #7)  That all human societies tend to be hierarchically organized, resulting from competition, so the strongest males dominate everyone else, and males tend to dominate most females. This is clearly a fallacy, since most hunter-gatherers tend to have levelling mechanisms that create a relatively egalitarian access to food, shelter, solace, and reproductive opportunities. If anything, what has been proposed for much of the human evolutionary period, is a kind of reversal of dominance, where the strongest individuals actively ensure the welfare of the young and more vulnerable members of their groups.
Socio-economic inequality is not an inevitable outcome of the Neolithic revolution, either.

Fallacy #8) Humans are special snowflakes because God said so.

Can we really posit that humans are that different from other animals? Does the idea that density dependent changes in behaviour occur in humans seem so threatening to modern people, most of whom live in densely populated urban areas… so threatening that we cannot even explore it?

I would like to end by decrying a false dichotomy.  This is created when someone  presents the human past, evolving within a hunter-gatherer economy, as the representatives of a lost and peaceful Eden, and “evolutionary environment” that shaped our species and made us ill-suited to the denser aggregations, carbohydrate-rich diets, and fast pace of life in civilization.

There is no real evidence that humans are genetically shaped for the activities of any particular economy.  People only a few generations removed from living as hunter-gatherers take readily to careers in livestock farming, computer science, banking, stand-up comedy, and so on.  Conversely, hunter-gatherer diets even today vary considerably, and many are hardly lacking in carbohydrates from cereal or starchy roots. Indeed, it is because of this that these were among the first domesticated plants.

The point of most contention is always the issue of war – or, as some phrase it “coalitional inter-group lethal violence”.

The relative absence of war among mobile hunter-gatherers is often mistaken for assertions that all such societies, so typical of our evolutionary past, were pacifist paradises occupied by “noble savages”.  Critics, having first erected this straw man, then contest the evidence by pointing to reports of violence and murder in ethnographic reports and archaeological discoveries. They also tend to confuse the issue by mixing in reports from extant or prehistoric sedentary hunter-gatherers, and even from horticultural or pastoral economies. Few go so far as to publish insinuations that researchers specializing in the study of hunter-gatherers were, at best, suffering from romantic delusions, or, at worst, dishonest. The presentation of modern day hunter-gatherers, as if their economy survived only due to isolation, is of course closely linked to  Fallacy #5. If you believe that hunting and gathering was riskier and more arduous than keeping livestock and growing crops, naturally what follows is an assumption that people only need to see these more desirable options and they will then emulate them. Closely linked to this is the assumption that there is a progressive directionality in economic and cultural change as innovations (like domestication and more substantial housing) are acquired because they “make life easier” or less risky.

What if the truth is stranger? What if sedentary life, food storage, plant and animal domestication, and institutions dedicated to leadership and social control were in fact developed to deal with the repeated failures?  What if the accumulative inventory of creative  solutions sometimes resulted in economic practices even MORE arduous and risky?  Does this destroy anything at all beyond our myth of progress?

I would like to plead for another piece of middle ground. Research among modern day hunter-gatherers may have overturned Hobbes, but does demolition of such previous negative stereotypes necessarily require that we depreciate either farming or civilization? They are riskier ventures, true, less stable in extreme densities, but no less bear stunning testimony to the adaptive scope and power of the collective cognitive niche; the fusion of two heritable but very different replicators.



Here I Stand, I Cannot Do Otherwise

“In captivity (office, gym, commute, sports), life is just repetitive stress injury.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes (2010)

92821459I’ve been getting these annoying leg cramps since my late twenties. They often make it hard for me to sleep. At their worst, they make it hard for me to even think straight. I’ve tried all sorts of things to fix the problem over the years—more stretching, more exercise, less coffee, massage, yoga, chiropractors, muscle relaxants, more walking, more water, more bananas—but none of it worked.

Although the source of the cramps remained a mystery, I recently noticed that they got better whenever I was on vacation and worse whenever I was at work, which led me to conclude that the cramps must be caused by something I do a great deal of when I’m working. And what do I do a lot of when I’m working? I sit.

I sit when I’m grading assignments. I sit when I’m preparing for class. I sit through office hours. I sit on the bus and metro, for three hours a day, commuting to and from work. I sit when I’m reading. I sit when I’m writing. And I sit when I’m wasting time on Facebook. In short, I sit, sit, sit, sit, sit.

But less so lately.

I converted my work-space into a standing desk about a week and a half ago. It was awkward for a day or two, but I quickly grew accustomed to it. As for the results, well, they’ve been nothing short of miraculous. Within three days, the cramps were noticeably better. After a week, they were gone. Completely gone.

Never ceases to amaze me, how much this sedentary civilized modern life of ours deforms us, and debilitates us.

—John Faithful Hamer, Twilight of the Idlers (2016)

Why I’m Sick of Friends of the Mountain

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”—Mark 2:27 (King James Version)

IMG_1879Visiting Frederick Law Olmsted’s house in Brookline (MA) today makes clear something Montreal’s Friends of the Mountain seems to have forgotten: man was not made for the park; the park was made for man. Olmsted, who designed Mount Royal Park, along with Central Park in New York City, wanted it to be a public park, a people’s park; but Friends of the Mountain seems to think it’s their park. They regularly harass citizens for trivial infractions of their petty rules; make life miserable for people enjoying a public park their taxes pay for; behave like a police force when they’re really nothing more than a self-appointed morality squad; and impose a draconian version of the invasive species doctrine on the flora and fauna who call the Mountain home. Look, if someone’s picking trilliums or shooting songbirds, by all means, give them shit; but if a mother is walking two meters off the path to show her daughter a beautiful red mushroom, for God’s sake, leave her alone!

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2016)

My Position in the Great Debate

My academic life revolves around posing answers to a family of related questions: how does education inform life? does it improve outcomes or cause unnecessary harm? how? when? what is the role of the sciences, and other forms of culture involving human concepts and percepts, in human life?

In my experience, the significant break in answers given comes down to different ways of structuring knowledge. Some people (who might be scientists, humanists, or artists) believe that knowledge should be universal, at the very least in theory, and that education consists in generalizing the particular to some kind of universal (e.g. “the scientific method” writ large across all historical sciences in their various fields of endeavor). Other people (as diverse as the first group in their education) believe that there is no such thing as universal knowledge, that knowledge is a particular byproduct of living mindfully in certain environments (physics labs, biology labs, the jungle, the desert, the artist’s studio, the university, the marketplace, the courtroom, etc.). For these folks, the quest for perfecting universal conceptual systems (e.g. creating a universal map of Platonic forms or Aristotelian categories) is hopeless–and a waste of time, definitely not the point of any education worth having.

For better or worse, I am a member of the second camp. I have more in common with physicists who denigrate universals than with humanists or philosophers who embrace them, even though I am accidentally a member of the humanist faction (with more serious reading logged in philosophy than in physics). I don’t think there is any solution to our conflict in sight: people who believe in universals will always struggle for them, as we who disbelieve will always struggle to escape the kind of thinking we regard as fundamentally imprisoning, stultifying, and illiberal (unfree, requiring definitive universal answers to questions that are beyond universal definition).

Pillow With a Pulse


Señor Smartypants: “My flakiness never ceases to amaze me. As does my frequent inability to see the big picture. If I was on The Titanic when it began to sink, pretty sure I would’ve been one of those fools who polished the silverware and rearranged the furniture all the way down; or, as a friend once suggested, perhaps I would have been one of those silly men sitting at the ship’s bar—sipping whiskey, talking too much, laughing out loud, totally oblivious—even as a killer iceberg from hell tore chunks out of the mahogany wall, allowing ice-cold saltwater to pour into the smoky pub. Knowing this about yourself—as St. Paul well knew—is one thing; changing it is another. For instance, last night, Tabby brought me a dead mouse and I screamed like a little girl. Like a little girl, David!”

King David: “Look, Señor Smartypants, you don’t have to eat it: you don’t have to eat the dead mouse. But now’s not the time to tell Tabby the tabby that you’re a vegetarian. Now’s not the time to tell her that it wasn’t killed kosher. Now’s not the time to tell her that the mouse is forbidden to the faithful in Leviticus 11:29. Now’s not the time to tell her that her gift’s gross. When your cute little puddy-cat prances proudly onto the patio—with a spring in her step, and a furry thing in her mouth—when she plops that present down at your feet, magnanimously, triumphantly, altruistically, smile, pet her sweet head, and see the gift for what it is: an act of love—misguided love, perhaps, but love nonetheless.”

Señor Smartypants: “Still waterboarding Ibsen?”

King David: “Yeah.”

Señor Smartypants: “Think he’s gonna crack, tell you who he’s working for?”

King David: “Sooner or later, Señor, sooner or later. Vee have ways, vee have ways of making the kitty talk.”

Señor Smartypants: “He’s not a cat, David. He’s a pillow with a pulse.”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

The Myth of the Happy Poor

happy-slavesI’ve encountered the myth of the happy poor most amongst elites and intellectuals from South Asia and South America. And I can’t help but suspect that it’s a way of rationalizing the extremes of wealth and poverty in those places. It brings to mind the way slave owners in the Old South used to go on and on about how happy their Negros were. Or the way that every annoying douchebag from Saudi Arabia goes on and on about how the women are actually running everything. Two heuristics: (1) The more the guys in a place—usually guys sitting around doing fuck all—tell you that the women really have all the power, the less power the women actually have. (2) The more a country’s elites tell you about how happy their poor folk are, the less happy they actually are. “Poverty,” as J. K. Rowling rightly observes, “entails a thousand petty humiliations and hardships; it is romanticized only by fools.”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Mens Rea

A crime is committed.  Society perceives that something is wrong, somebody has done wrong, some reaction must occur.  What should we do?  How do we confront crime, including not just those crimes that have already occurred, but also the fear and expectation of future crimes?

At the end of the day, the problem we confront here must be one of action, not intention. The intentions of other people are always in some sense inscrutable, impossible to know in some particulars–even when we have the kind of intimate insight provided by good novelists or historians (who are more similar than different, generically speaking).

The mens rea is secondary, something we look for after a crime has already been committed. We don’t look for it primarily, before a crime has been committed, because crime occurs for many reasons, in situations that involve many mental states (too many to know, let alone understand, even when the action is over, let alone before it happens).

The worst kind of police-work involves flipping the process around, looking for guilty thoughts (mens rea) before guilty actions (crimes). Because anyone, nay everyone, is always having thoughts that are problematic (at least potentially). The parent’s love for a child, the child’s love for a sibling, the human’s love for affection, etc., all become criminal at some point (i.e. mens rea). My thoughts–my loves, hatreds, passions–are not magically good because as yet they are associated with no crimes (that I am aware of, that society has noticed). The same is true of yours, and of all people. We have different thoughts, of course, different iterations of the dangerous process that manifests somewhere as mens rea–which we will have differently. Your mens rea will not be mine, but that does not make either of us categorically less guilty than the other.

The only viable filter for separating acceptable human psychology from mens rea is action. What did you do? I don’t punish people for thinking, even when they think bad thoughts (in my judgment), until I find them acting badly (and then I try to make my reaction match the level of evil in their action: a sin is not necessarily a crime, and not all crimes or sins are created equal; sometimes a slap on the wrist is appropriate, other times you need something stronger). Having ambivalent thoughts about sex, or religion, or any such thing is not the same as beating, killing, or otherwise criminally damaging other people. Some of the best people I know have ambivalent thoughts about the human condition; they turn those thoughts into good actions (avoiding harm, helping where possible, cultivating compassion that does not overwhelm its object with unwanted attention). Others use the same kind of thoughts to become criminals. When the Dalai Lama suggests that sexual or political or even human identity is unreal or in some sense unimportant, is he committing a crime, stirring the fire of human passion in an attempt to cause mayhem? Not in my book. I am still Christian enough to believe the dictum “by their fruits ye shall know them”–and I identify those fruits with actions, particular actions of motivated individuals, not nebulous social trends (“cultures” like Christianity or Buddhism or Islam) that lack coherent moral agency (everything under the sun is historically Christian or Buddhist or Muslim, including murder and mayhem, naturally, as these are permanent parts of the human condition).

Am I a horrible person for this stance I take, that action must matter primarily in judging and responding to crime? I don’t think so, obviously, but that does not mean that I am right (particularly right, unable to go wrong as I make individual judgments about how to behave in specific circumstances). My reason for refraining from criminalizing thoughts is fundamentally about compassion: I want to believe that you have the best motivations for whatever choices you make, and I will not interfere with those choices or judge them (in a particular sense) harshly, until you make that necessary by some action (e.g. walking into my neighborhood with drawn weapons). Even then, my most severe judgment is of your behavior, not your thoughts. I don’t condemn Christian culture, Buddhist culture, Muslim culture, etc. I don’t condemn Christian rape, Buddhist rape, Muslim rape, etc. I condemn rape, and I fight against rapists (individuals with agency that they use to become rapists). The broader social trends that criminals draw from to inform and color their criminality, the broader social trends that we draw from to explain it–these to me are always secondary (and doubtful). When I sit on a jury to determine guilt, I don’t want to judge the culture of the criminal. I want to know what s/he did, and only then to consider how the particular culture or circumstances might mitigate (or not) whatever reaction I make.