The title phrase is a reaction, elicited from some, to the most “extreme” news. It’s the verbal equivalent of putting hands over eyes and screaming “Make it go away!” And sane Americans are having it ever more frequently.
However, it’s dangerous. What makes it dangerous is the word can’t, which is always a chancy thing to say. As we’ve been bombarded with seeming impossibilities these past few years, you’d think we’d have learned not to use can’t without a spot of reflection and deliberation. Have a brief selection of can’t evocations from recent events:
- Gasoline at $5.00 per gallon?
- No baby formula in the supermarket?
- Tampon dispensers in men’s restrooms?
- 5 million new illegal aliens in only two years?
- The Army forcing male soldiers to parade in high heels?
- Drag queen story hours barricaded by armed AntiFa members?
- Prisoners in “women’s” prisons being impregnated…by other prisoners?
- Employees being fired for refusing to accept vaccination with an experimental drug?
- The best president since World War II defeated by a dementia sufferer who didn’t even campaign?
- That same dementia sufferer making a public statement in which he declares half the country “a threat to the soul of the nation?”
That can’t be true, right? Not in America. You know your country better than that!
Can’t is a reaction born of what I’ll call our experiential sense. Over the years, a man’s experiences, supplemented by reports from others he knows and trusts, cause him to build up an inarticulate sense for the bounds of the possible. He constructs an envelope within which the report of an event must fall to be credible. He dismisses anything that violates that envelope, usually without even pausing to look at the evidence or reflect on the reliability of the reporter.
But the experiential sense is itself untrustworthy. It’s too personal, and too dependent upon the limited sensitivity and scope of our senses. Anyone with a little knowledge of physics will tell you. Filaments that are one molecule thick? Conductors with zero resistance? Light bent by gravity? Particles with zero rest mass? Pull the other one; it’s got bells on.
Time to repeat a favorite Heinlein quote:
Logic is a feeble reed, friend. “Logic” proved that airplanes can’t fly and that H-bombs won’t work and that stones don’t fall out of the sky. Logic is a way of saying that anything which didn’t happen yesterday won’t happen tomorrow. [From Glory Road]
As badly wrong as logic can take us when misapplied or founded on mistaken premises, the experiential sense can take us much, much further.
Beware the can’ts.
As politics, the foulest of all occupations, finds a use for every vile and horrible thing, it’s found a use for the can’ts. Briefly, a rapid succession of events that evoke the can’t response is capable of numbing those subjected to them, paralyzing them by the seeming impossibility of what they’re experiencing. The underlying mechanism is subtle. Our experiential sense is accompanied by a conviction that as events proceed around us, we will know what to do. But that conviction fails in the face of a can’t development. Once we have been englobed by such events, the conviction is inverted.
One of Philip K. Dick’s best novels, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, offers us this powerful passage:
He felt toward Kathy a certain strange cynical trust, both absolute and unconvincing; one half of his brain saw her as reliable beyond the power of the telling of it, and the other half saw her as debased, for sale, and fucking up right and left. He could not put it together into one view. The two images of Kathy remained superimposed in his head.
Maybe I can resolve my parallel conceptions of Kathy before I leave here, he thought. Before morning. But maybe he could stay even one day after that…it would be stretching it, however. How good really are the police? he asked himself. They managed to get my name wrong; they pulled the wrong file on me. Isn’t it possible they’ll fuck up all down the line? Maybe. But maybe not.
He had mutually opposing conceptions of the police, too. And could not resolve those either. And so, like a rabbit, like Emily Fusselman’s rabbit, froze where he was. Hoping as he did so that everyone understood the rules: you do not destroy a creature that does not know what to do.
The viewpoint character, Jason Taverner, a man literally designed from conception for high intelligence and ability, has found himself transported by a lethal assault into a realm of irreality: an environment in which his experiential sense has been violated at every turn, for a whole day. The girl Kathy had seemed normal and credible. Yet she proved wholly disconnected from the events of her own life. He had never before feared the police, largely because of his celebrity status. Yet in the irreal landscape to which he was relocated, they treat him as a suspicious nobody. These and other can’t events have paralyzed his will. Previously a competent and self-assured person, he no longer believes he’ll know how to cope with what could come next.
Philip K. Dick was famed for his nightmare fiction, and Flow My Tears is Dick at his best. I recommend it unreservedly. It has lessons for us in our current nightmare.
A great many Americans have been partially paralyzed by the march of the can’ts. Others have decided that their best choice is to arm themselves, stockpile necessities, and “hunker down.” Still others are mired in such disbelief that they cannot act at all.
None of this is by accident. Your experiential sense is being used against you. By violating it at every possible turn, they who seek your subjugation are battering you into a state of acquired helplessness.
It’s easy to say Marshal your willpower! Resist! It’s a lot harder to answer the automatic and quite understandable reply: “But how?”
Don’t look at me. I have no answer for you.
What has me fulminating in this fashion? Oh, nothing much. Just a spot of corporate policy perversity:
Until now, the abortion debate has largely been a political one, played out in terms of legality in the legislatures and – for almost fifty years – the courts. In the wake of Dobbs, however, expect at least part of the debate to shift from politics to economics, as certain pro-abortion actors leverage financial incentives to tilt the debate in a capitalist society that, occasionally, likes to appeal to “social justice.”
Since Dobbs, leading companies have tripped all over each other to announce that they would happily fund their employees’ abortions, even to pay for travel to states allowing prenatal killing if it were banned where they were located. Not a few corporations pressured state legislatures against considering pro-life legislation. New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy and California’s Governor Gavin Newsom have even been touting their states as destinations for businesses to relocate to, not because of their oppressive tax structures but because both had “codified” abortion-on-demand through birth.
Yes, Gentle Reader, it’s really happening. Corporate employers are actually funding “abortion trips:” to avert the costs of maternity leave; to keep their female employees on the job; and to retain their employees’ full dedication and attention. Parents have to split their time and energy between their jobs and their families, don’t y’know. The childless experience no such pressure.
Pure, utterly amoral “bottom line” policy, made possible and encouraged by utterly amoral politics.