Monday, January 21, 2019

The Biggest Spanner

     Regular Gentle Readers will already be aware of my fondness for archaisms and other odd turns of phrase. (Be not afraid. I’m not about to say whence again...uh...oh, damn! Sorry about that.) A couple of my favorites derive from English slang, by which I mean terms used “across the puddle” in the Sceptered Isle. One of them of great utility is “to throw a spanner in the works.”

     For those who have never had the dubious pleasure of working on any of the products of British Leyland, a spanner in the English idiom is what we “in the colonies” would call a wrench. Needless to say, one does not leave a spanner “in the works” once the repairs are complete. That would tend to “bollocks them up” rather thoroughly. Merely starting the motor – yeah, yeah, I know the difference between a motor and an engine; it’s the way the Brits talk – would leave one with a substantial “cockup.” It would leave your motorcar as useful as a “damp squib.” It would be totally “snookered.” You might feel “gutted” enough to leave off mechanical work altogether.

     Note the mind-bending assumption embedded in the above example: that there are states of repair in which things “work” – that is, they do what they were designed and built to do – and other states – far more numerous, really; see the Second Law of Thermodynamics if you doubt this – in which they don’t. This revelation underpins all of that arcane discipline we call engineering. The art of the engineer is to apply scientific and technological knowledge to go from a state in which things don’t work to a state in which they do, according to some previously specified set of desiderata, most commonly called the requirements.

     All too often, as an engineer is plying his art, some “tosser” will happen along and “throw a spanner into the works.” The nature of said spanner will vary according to the nature of the project and the intentions of the “tosser.” With all that having been said, we come to my subject for this fine, frigid Monday morning on Long Island, New York: temperature 9 degrees Fahrenheit.


     Sarah Hoyt has a fine and impassioned piece up at PJ Media. If you don’t have the time to read it all – say, what are you doing here? — here’s the sockdolager:

     I attended [a science fiction convention] this weekend and a friend lamented that you can no longer be on a panel with anyone without the discussion devolving to politics. And you can barely talk to people in the halls because any topic can devolve into politics....

     It’s time we start reclaiming sanity. It’s time to say loud and clear “No, that’s not political. It’s whatever” (Science, history, entertainment.) “And your claiming it’s political is either bad faith or ignorance. Now let the adults talk.”

     Sarah’s observations got my engine turning. They’re not entirely new, mind you. I’ve expressed similar sentiments about the pervasive politicization of everything. What makes them piercing is how far that attitude has penetrated those realms into which we go to escape politics and other dreary features of daily life. Music. Art. Fiction. Sex. Sports!

     (To the best of my knowledge, chess, bridge, and canasta remain unaffected. Keep it under your hat.)

     Politics and political differences are the “spanner in the works” that’s ruining American society. Until about sixty years ago, ours was a society in which things work. That is: we knew of ways to achieve our desired ends, and when we followed them with adequate fidelity, we got what we wanted, for every imaginable value of “we.” Politics was a marginal pursuit. It didn’t figure into the overwhelmingly greater portion of the ways things work.

     Then the American Left got revved up: “The personal is political.” “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Et cetera ad nauseam infinitam. Subject after subject acquired a political tint. People began to get strident and hostile toward those who disagree with them. Conversations about important matters between serious persons became ever more hazardous. There was no way to know a priori whether it was “safe” to introduce some topic, even in a gathering of friends.

     And one by one, a lot of things stopped working.

     The plague continues to spread. There’s no telling how far it will go, or whether any outcome other than the complete ruination and atomization of society is still achievable. But at least we can still understand what’s being done to us...if we have the stomach to face it.


     Politics is not a universally applicable solution to problems of all sorts. Politics is a method: a fall-back method. It is to be used only when everyone agrees:

  • On the “requirements;”
  • That all other methods of satisfying the requirements have failed;
  • And on the “acceptance test,” passing which will terminate the use of the political method.

     In other words, politics is to be used only when no other approach to some highly urgent matter is plausible. The reason is simple:

Alone among all human methods,
Politics inevitably brings strife.

     Politics, you see, is about force. It’s force a short step back from actual violence. It imposes some scheme of things upon all persons, including those who don’t want it, with the threat of punishment to keep the dissenters in line. And force, whether threatened or actual, is the cleavage item that divides the universe of human action into morally permissible and morally forbidden.

     If you fail to understand this, no man of good will could argue with you. You are morally different from the rest of us – and “morally different” is a euphemism for evil.


     The Left’s project, the politicization of everything, involves tearing up and rewriting – from the Left’s preferences, of course – the entire edifice of Western thought, right down to its moral bedrock. Toward this end it has striven to infiltrate, colonize, and conquer every institution which has even the slightest relevance to human well-being. And it has made great strides in that direction. Visible manifestations horrify us daily.

     But politics is “a spanner in the works,” the biggest “spanner” imaginable. In every setting except the defense of individuals against predators and the defense of the nation against its enemies, it “bollockses things up.” It leaves whatever it touches completely “snookered.” And they who naively looked to politics as a solution to some situation they were persuaded to regard as a “problem” that must be “solved” often come away “gutted.”

     They to whom the goal is power merely snicker. They use every failure of the political method to agitate for still broader and more forceful politicization. And they succeed frighteningly often.

     It must stop. It must be stopped. And only you and I can stop it.

     Stand your ground. Refuse to bend. And remember what John Wayne said:

3 comments:

Bill Sheffield said...

Home run, Fran! Most of what I read here on a daily basis is well received and goes great with my morning focus on the day, along with the required two mugs of dark roast. Unfortunately, the words here dissipate 24 hours later, as I foggily absorbed the general outline of what you said, but not many details are retained in this 71 year old brain.

Not the case today. You hit upon a subject that I find myself am judged as guilty when it comes to quickly jumping into the fray of politicizing everything. I know better, but the Left suckers people like me to react in a logical defense of the truth, knowing full well that truth does not matter to them. I also know that our Founders had no intention of government invading so much of our lives. Your spanner in the works analogy is forever embedded in my thoughts.

daniel_day said...

I was knackered after reading that first paragraph.

ligneus said...

"I find myself am judged as guilty"

I'm sure you're a lovely fellow but you sure put a spanner in the English works.