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0646, 11 Aug 23

Theory will only take you so far

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News on Tuesday.

If you have not seen the Christopher Nolan film “Oppenheimer,” you should. It is a visually exquisite, beautiful piece of storytelling with fantastic acting. The movie deals thoughtfully with immense topics like nuclear proliferation, antisemitism, McCarthyism, communism, patriotism, and the horrors of war interlaced with the personal story lines of love, hate, betrayal, vengeance, egotism, mental illness, and the wobbling trajectory of a life of purpose.


All good art sparks thoughts and emotions that are often in search of a language to express them. One of the many thoughts that continued to percolate in my brain long after the movie ended was the intersection of theory and practice.


Relatively early in the movie, Dr. Oppenheimer moves into his classroom at Berkeley that is next to the classroom of Dr. Ernest Lawrence. Oppenheimer meets Lawrence as the latter is constructing what I presume to be a version of the cyclotron for which Lawrence won the Nobel Prize. In conversation, Lawrence opines to Oppenheimer that, “theory will only take you so far.”


This thread returns several times throughout the movie as the scientists are confronted with the limitations of theory in the development of the atomic bomb. In one scene, Oppenheimer and other scientists at Berkeley are excited by the news that physicists Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch had discovered nuclear fission in the experiments of nuclear chemist Otto Hahn. Fission was previously thought to be impossible, but Hahn managed to do it by bombarding uranium with neutrons.


In the movie, when Oppenheimer read the news, he reiterated that the feat was impossible and descended on his chalkboard to run the math to prove it again. Oppenheimer stood by his assertion that fission was impossible until Lawrence returned to tell Oppenheimer that they had duplicated the experiment. What was “proven” impossible by theory was proven possible by practice.


Is it not so with socialism? In theory, socialism should work. It is an economic system in which scarce resources are allocated by priority of need. The theory is that if everyone contributes according to their ability, and everybody consumes according to their need, then the society as a whole will achieve maximum efficiency and aggregate success, or, at least, aggregate satisfaction.


Socialism makes sense in theory, so why does it always fail in practice?


Socialism fails because it mistakes the fundamental nature of people. Socialism assumes that people are naturally altruistic and will act in good faith. In reality, altruism beyond one’s own family or community is a modern phenomenon. It has only been in recent decades, when food scarcity has abated (thanks to capitalism), that some people have lifted their eyes beyond their personal needs to care about the broader world. But even now, the vast majority of people are far more concerned about their personal self-interest and will behave accordingly.


So it is that in a socialist economy, people do not contribute according to their ability. They contribute as little as they must. And they do not consume according to their need. They consume as much as they can. To combat this, the system must be enforced by an ever more forceful central authority. The flawed, and often evil, humans who gravitate into the center of a socialist system tend to be those who are seeking to consume the most. The inevitable result is cruelty, cronyism, and collapse.


To preserve liberty in a political and economic sense is to not allow power to concentrate, because whenever power is concentrated, there will be cruel and corrupt people seeking to use that power for their own benefit. Our national founders fundamentally understood this, which is why they designed our federal government to divide and check power.


Every system of government is found along a continuum from complete decentralization of power to complete concentration of power. On one end we find anarchy. On the other end we find communism, monarchy, fascism, and other forms of totalitarianism. Socialism is the younger, more handsome, brother of communism while democracy is the older, less reckless, brother of anarchy. The United States has a republic, which seeks to protect individual liberties from the oppression from the majority (democracy) or the minority (totalitarianism).


No system is static. There are too many forces at play for it to be so. The tendency, in both economies and governments, is for power to concentrate. This is so because people of ill intent are pushing it in that direction for their own gain. As power concentrates, the progression accelerates until critical mass is reached, and destructive energy is released.


There is a reason why socialism is so often advocated by academics and opposed by those who have lived under socialism. Theory will only take you so far.


0646, 11 August 2023


  1. Billiam

    The United States HAD a Republic. There. Fixed it for you. The Republic has been gone for some time. The 17th Amendment had a big hand in the destruction of our Republic. Also, the elevation of the Supreme Court as the Final Arbiter. Once the Federal Government started accumulating powers that were reserved for the States, The Republic was finished. Socialism, Communism, et al, prove that History keeps repeating itself because people are stupid. Plenty only exacerbates the problem. The more plentiful things become, the more corrupt and apathetic we humans become. For a Republic to survive, the people MUST be diligent and involved. That’s why Franklin said “A Republic. If you can keep it.” We didn’t.

  2. MjM

    It is a common misconception that socialism is about helping poor people. Actually, what socialism does is create poor people, and keep them poor. And that’s not by accident. Under capitalism, rich people become powerful. But under socialism, powerful people become rich.” – Glenn Reynolds, 5/16/16

    Theory is always built with conjecture and supposition. And, of course, a bit of bias. As Owen shows above, Oppenheimer was biased towards his mathematical skills. It used to be that theory was presented as just that. A well-thought out proposition. An highly educated guess. They were basically scientific double-dog dares, calling on all to poke fingers at them attempting to prove/disprove.

    Today, wild unsubstantiated theory is presented directly as fact (think: climate models). This is in part because the genre of “science” has gotten lazy and dumber. But it really doesn’t take much to create a modern scientific theory, as scientific theory is longer scientific. It has become group-think political. Deceptively so.

    The theory of socialism is not even close to anything that could be called “scientific”. It is an elitist contrived lab rat humanities theory that, as Owen correctly points out, forgot (on purpose?) to include anything to do with actual humans. It has been tested, tried, and failed in every instance. It should have been tossed in the dumpster of history 100+ years ago.

    But it hasn’t.

    Why? Reynolds’ quote above is close. What he forgot to include is that in capitalism, the rich get powerful and then bow to socialism to ensure they remain both.

    Human ego is a tough thing to beat. Some do. Most don’t. Particularly when they get filthy stinking rich. No one is a better example than George Soros, whose billions came from capitalism yet he seeks – and funds – socialism chaos in the general population, all the while actually thinking himself a god.

    Failed theory or not, socialism is here to stay to be tried, tried again. Not because “it could work”. Not because “it hasn’t been done right”. Humanity will continue to face it not because a particular style of governance but because humanity will always have elitist who believe they are gods, and the rest of you ain’t

  3. dad29

    scientific theory is longer scientific. It has become group-think political.

    One might suggest that scientific theory has become slave to cash considerations in many instances. It becomes political because certain parties can take political advantage of the theory in question, and those parties will form an alliance with the cash-providers (direct or indirect) to perpetuate the “theory” no matter its truth-content.

    That is certainly the case with “climate.” It WAS not the case with CoVid; there, instead, we have a case of regulatory capture which was merely a ‘cash-consideration’ situation–but then Bai-Den attempted to command the entire population to submit. Then it became political.

    To your (and Owen’s) more general point, “Progress” teaches us that mankind is perfectible; reality teaches otherwise. That ‘perfectibility’ lie is the one Lucifer told Eve (….thou shalt become like God) and has been in circulation ever since.

  4. Jason

    >Today, wild unsubstantiated theory is presented directly as fact (think: climate models). This is in part because the genre of “science” has gotten lazy and dumber. But it really doesn’t take much to create a modern scientific theory, as scientific theory is longer scientific. It has become group-think political. Deceptively so

    What further proof do we need of this than the emails and communications between the medical leaders during Covid, Faucci, Daszac, others. The efforts to spin away from science and honesty on origins, lab leaks, gain of function has set back trust in science for a decade or more.

  5. MjM

    One might suggest that scientific theory has become slave to cash considerations in many instances.

    Yes but keep in mind the cash in the flow – gov grants->researchers = campaign contributions->politicians – begins with you.

    Given the overwhelming slant of the scientific “community” the collection of other peoples money for personal gain is not surprising.


    Most scientists identify as Democrats (55%), while 32% identify as independents and just 6% say they are Republicans. When the leanings of independents are considered, fully 81% identify as Democrats or lean to the Democratic Party, compared with 12% who either identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP. — PEW Research 7/9/09.


    Shaughnessy Naughton, a Pennsylvania Democrat and former drug researcher wants to see more scientists take the plunge into politics. Naughton, who lost her races for the U.S. House in 2014 and 2016, has started a political nonprofit called 314 Action whose goal is to persuade scientists to run for office and to provide financial support.

    The group currently supports only Democratic candidates, though Naughton said she hopes to establish a separate fund to support Republicans.

    “When you look at the party platforms, particularly on climate change, there’s a stark difference,” Naughton said. “We felt like we had to pick a side.” — Slate, 2017


    Before the November 3 [2020] elections, we surveyed more than 1,500 researchers belonging to the Union of Concerned Scientists Science Network (UCSSN)—a multidisciplinary network of more than 19,000 politically engaged scientists, medical doctors, and engineers.

    And they are consensus Democratic voters. Eighty-nine percent of survey respondents voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016; only 1 percent voted for Trump. — Scientific America, 10/ 25,/20


    It WAS not the case with CoVid; there, instead, we have a case of regulatory capture which was merely a ‘cash-consideration’ situation

    Sorry to disagree, but I disagree.

    From the get-go the false “theories” of origin (bat caves, market) were outright lies promulgated by the very people – ours as well as the Chicomms – who knew the truth immediately, to hide their criminal reality.

    And the WHO, the CDC, the MSM, and Dem Pols without question regurgitated those “theories” for no other reason than political shit tossing at Trump who had correctly “theorized” the actual origin. And then every leftist on the planet labeled him a racist and xenophobe for shutting down travel from China.

    I suppose one could claim Pfizer initiated ‘ regulatory capture ‘ on itself with their attempt to delay their useless vax until after the election to get mo’ g’vment money out of Babblin’ Joe, a sponge brain politician, rather than having to deal with a hard assed bizman. But that is just as political as basing it on some CYA theory.

  6. dad29

    ….1,500 researchers belonging to the Union of Concerned Scientists Science Network (UCSSN)—a multidisciplinary network of more than 19,000 politically engaged scientists, medical doctors, and engineers….

    UCS has–perhaps–100 actual “scientists.” The rest are lab-assistants, students, janitors, and old ladies looking for hot new lovers. Has been so for at least 30 years.

    As to the Covid sitch…….it is common practice for obvious reasons, that when you develop a bio-weapon (Covid) you concurrently develop the vaccine which prevents it, or blowback will take down your side, too. Thus, Pfizer (and the others) had been developing the vaxx for quite some time. In this case, the regulator (Fauci) ‘captured’ Pfizer with a crap-ton of money to develop the vaxx.

    I will concede that my use of the term ‘regulatory capture’ was not well-explained and you have every right to call me out…..

  7. MjM

    UCS has–perhaps–100 actual “scientists.”

    You don’t have to be a scientist to sign up to be a member of UCS. The total membership is 100,000+. However, the 19,000 cited by Scientific America are contributing/colluding/screech teaching members of UCS’s Science Network. PhD/M.S./B.S. required. And it is actually 23,000 as of 2022.

    Thus, Pfizer (and the others) had been developing the vaxx for quite some time

    The vax for this breed of virus has been in development since 1930, when it was discovered in a thousands of dead chickens. Unlike any other influenza virus it was named IBV, infectious bronchitis virus, before it became “coronavirus” in 1968 because how it and several other variants found in other animals looked under an electron microscope; the spikes had halos. These viruses affected humans like short lived colds. Until 2002. A more serious variant was discovered in humans in – guess! – China. But it died out quickly and human vax research waned.

    Then some guys in Texas actually developed a vax in 2016, but they could not raise the $$ for trials because a) nobody had caught in years, and b) nobody was interested.

    The the basis for the vax already existed.

    you have every right to call me out…..

    Sorry, wasn’t meant as that. I fully understood your meaning. I just don’t see much of it having occurred until after TSHTF.

  8. dad29

    Hotez claims he had the vaxx. But there is a difference between SARS and CoVid, as CoVid was a gain-of-function variant. I’m not a medic type in any way, shape, or form, but there are a couple of things here to ponder.

    First, Teh Vaxx is really NOT a Vaxx. It does not prevent infection, and it does not prevent transmission.

    Secondly, Hotez is a known liar and self-aggrandizer. Taking him seriously can be very risky, indeed.

    Third, if Hotez had what he CALLS “a vaxx,” did Hotez sell the formula to Pfizer? Did he call it a “Vaxx” knowing that it was NOT a Vaxx?

    Things to ponder.

  9. MjM

    But there is a difference between SARS and CoVid

    Of course, just as there is a difference between Influenza A,B,C, and D. But just as those have the same biological structure so does SARS-CoV and CoVid-19. Because they, and the IBV of 90 years ago, are named differently doesn’t change that fact.

    If Hotez, scam/scum he might be, actually did figure out how to break down or bypass the outer fat structure of coronaviruses then at the very least he was halfway home. And since he was working with a National Lab, the feds had any info he had. Maybe it was Fraudci who gave it to Pfizer.

    First, Teh Vaxx is really NOT a Vaxx.

    Sheesh, dude. We’re calling it “vax” because it’s the common vernacular, not because it’s a cure-all.

  10. Billiam

    MjM, One of the big problems in this Nation is imprecise language. People hear “vax” and many THINK cure-all because they never investigate beyond what the purveyors of propaganda feed them. Also, many groups have been redefining meanings for some time as it’s a proven way to manipulate the incurious masses. It’s tried and true. That type of thing has completely infected nearly all sectors of society, from Legal to Governmental to private and to religion.

  11. MjM

    True, but pseudo-pharmaceutical takes too long to type.

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