Solutions looking for problems

In a recent post, I talked about how we have a meritocratic assumption about the dominance hierarchies in our societies in that we assume that the people at the top got there by merit. While this holds in some domains such as sports, it doesn’t generally hold in corporations for reasons described variously by the Peter Principle, the Dilbert Principle and the Gervais Principle.

We have a similar meritocratic idea about products in the marketplace; namely, the best product is the most successful. Alongside this is a story about how such products come to be. A classic example of that story is Apple computers. Jobs and Wozniak (mostly Wozniak)  developed a product called the Apple I. They received investment funding to get that product to market and then they used the money from the sales of that product to invest in an improved version, Apple II, and so on. Facebook, Google and Amazon all share a similar story where initial success in the marketplace is rewarded and the resources of that success are reinvested to get more rewards until next thing you know you’re some of the most valuable companies in the world.

This is the ideal story of product development. It’s the one everybody wants to be a part of just like every lawyer dreams of having the ideal case where their client is completely innocent and they must pull out all the stops to save them from the powerful forces that want to destroy them. However, for every ideal story there are a hundred “variations”. Jobs and Wozniak got investment money and used it to produce an actual product that was sold in market. Less scrupulous players might try to get access to that investment money without producing a product that goes to market, aka take the money and run. Incompetent players take the investment money and are simply unable to produce a product. This latter dynamic gave rise to the concept of Vaporware in the IT industry. Vaporware was a product that was always about to get built but never did. Self-driving cars would be a nice example of Vaporware. I remember it was about five years ago when everybody where I worked seemed convinced that self-driving cars were just around the corner. People were already discussing the supposed social and cultural changes that were about to be wrought by this wonderful technological breakthrough. Years later, not only are there no self-driving cars on the road but I haven’t heard anybody even talking about them anymore. That’s what happens with Vaporware. It is nothing more or less than the story that gets told about it.

A related concept to Vaporware is the solution-looking-for-a-problem. As the name suggests, this is a situation where you have some technology that does something but you haven’t yet figured out what that something is good for. Possibly the ultimate solution-looking-for-a-problem is the blockchain. The blockchain solves a theoretical problem known as the Byzantine Generals Problem. In that sense, it is a solution and it has been looking for a real world problem to solve for more than a decade. Countless words have been written in the media and countless pitches sold to investors and corporations trying to find a use for blockchain but, unless I missed the memo, the blockchain has not solved a single real world problem. The closest it has come is Bitcoin which arguably solves one part of the problem caused by central banks printing enormous sums of money since the GFC. Ironically, it is the same central bank money printing which has caused an explosion in the number of solutions-looking-for-problems as we will see shortly.

Let’s contrast the dynamic of the solution-looking-for-a-problem against the ideal story of product development using Apple computers as the example. The original Apple I was a kit computer. It did not have a keyboard, monitor or mouse. You had to buy those yourself. As a kit computer, the market for Apple I was limited to enthusiasts known as “early adopters” in marketing jargon. Although, it sold well enough to keep Apple in business, the Apple I would not have looked successful to an outside observer early on. In fact, it was well behind Commodore and other competitors in the market. Thus, there was nothing about Apple at that time that would have allowed anybody to predict that it would become one of the most valuable companies of all time. That’s why co-founder Ronald Wayne sold his share of the company to Jobs and Wozniak in 1976 in what is, in hindsight, one of the worst decisions ever made from a financial point of view. However, as Wayne has pointed out, he made the best decision at the time on the information available to him. Most of us would have made the same decision. It was simply impossible to predict what Apple would become.

Apple Computers didn’t look like much in the early days, but at least it had a product in market. By contrast, solutions-looking-for-problems are usually not products themselves. Rather, they are ideas and always ideas that are going to “change the world”. Sometimes, as in the case of blockchain, there is an underlying technology that can be used to build things like Bitcoin. Other times, as with self-driving cars, the underlying technological problems haven’t even been solved yet. The shared element in both cases is that the story being told about the technology dwarfs the real world results that have been achieved. In many cases, you have whole companies who don’t even have a product in market. They are funded not by revenue from sales but by investment money and this is where central bank money printing enters the picture because it drastically increases the amount of money available for speculative investment.

In the classic story of product development, investment capital might be required early on but it is always there to fund the sale of a product in market. It gets the ball rolling. Assuming investment money to be relatively scarce, investors will prefer a company that at least has enough competence to develop a product over one that does not. Any idiot can come up with an idea but it takes at least a modicum of know-how to turn the idea into a product. What happens when you massively increase the amount of investment money in the ecosystem by having central banks print enormous amounts of cash? One of the things that happens is that investors become far less picky and will happily fund anything. Another is that investors learn to make their money not by funding products in market but through stock market shenanigans involving IPOs. On the other side of the equation, ambitious people who want to get their hands on money turn away from the consumer market and focus on the investment market as an end in itself. Rather than compete in the consumer marketplace, they start competing in the investment marketplace. Because investors cash out based on the stock price, that becomes the marker of success not sales of a product. And because the stock price is more determined by central bank money printing than sales of products, the whole thing becomes a closed loop divorced from the real world.

If you are an “entrepreneur” competing for investment money, what you are selling is not a product but a story. There are all kinds of other players in the investment ecosystem who also have a vested interest in that story. Thus, the hype around blockchain was fuelled not just by “entrepreneurs” trying to access investment money but also IT firms looking to sell a “solution” to a client. In between are all the marketers and hype merchants who are paid to whip the whole thing into a frenzy. From the investor’s point of view, they cash out not when a product sells in the consumer market, but when a stock price is inflated so they also benefit from the hype machine which they hope will lure in suckers and drive up the stock price. Thus, investors are more likely to invest in the “product” that has hype behind it than one that does not. Over time, the whole investment ecosystem comes to run on stories and not reality and this is where the solution-looking-for-a-problem comes into the picture. It is just a story. It could work in theory but nobody knows, or cares, whether it works in reality. As long as the investment money keeps flowing, everybody’s happy.

As the volume of investment money grows, the story being told needs to grow too. It would be hard to justify an investment of $1bn for the development of a new type of screwdriver or coffee cup, for example. But $1bn for a technology that’s going to “change the world” can be justified. As the investment market grows and the hype grows, it attracts more ambitious people. A young Steve Jobs in 2022 wouldn’t bother with whatever the modern equivalent of a hobby computer kit is, he would get involved with blockchain, or AI, or machine learning, or whatever is the order of the day. The poster child of this modern dynamic is not Steve Jobs and Apple but Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. The whole system is a fraud, of course. Enormous amounts of money go into creating very few products and the ones that do get created are mostly as worthless as a Theranos blood test.

Like Theranos, companies can trade on this dynamic for many, many years and thus it’s quite common these days to see companies that have been “in business” for years and even decades even though they have never released a single product to market. One such company was Moderna and, of course, the mRNA gene therapy technology is a prime example of a solution-looking-for-a-problem. Moderna struck it lucky in 2020 and was able to release a product to market for the first time in its ten year history albeit under “emergency use authorisation”. Whitney Webb has written an incredible long-read history of Moderna for those who are interested but the main themes sketched here are all present. For most of its history, the major threats to Moderna were from the media because the “success” of such companies relies solely on the story. If the story starts to go wrong, the investment money stops flowing and it’s game over. Thus, top management spends most of their time worrying about the “story” and the reputation of the company. They spend large sums ensuring the media stays on side. This leads to the subsequent corruption of the media not to mention the regulatory agencies and pretty much anybody else in the game who can be bought out. The more investment money that is available due to central bank money printing, the more everybody can be bought out and the more corrupt the system becomes.

The use of mRNA gene therapies as vaccines is an example of a solution-looking-for-a-problem. So, for that matter, is the PCR test. In both cases you have a technology developed for a completely different purpose and later adapted to serve a different purpose. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Indeed, the history of the PCR is that it got used as a test for viral disease not because it’s perfect but because it has certain benefits over the older methods. Like any technology, as long as you know the pros and cons of it you can derive some use out of it. The pros and cons of the PCR test had been debated in the microbiological field for many years and people working in that field would know them. With corona, however, we jumped into the mass use of the PCR test and I doubt one in a thousand people, including the leaders of our countries, has any idea how they work let alone the potential problems involved with them. It’s even worse for the mRNA vaccines. At least the PCR has been in use for decades. The mRNA vaccine is as good as completely novel. Even the Health Minister of Australia admits we are in the middle of a giant experiment. We have no idea what the pros and cons are but, so far, the experiment looks to be a complete failure.

When we look back on it, it will be the failure pattern of the solution-looking-for-a-problem. It’s the same failure pattern we see with self-driving cars, with blockchain, with the internet of things and many others. It is the failure pattern of fraudulent late-capitalist marketing bullshit telling stories that have no correspondence to reality. The religious aspects of it occurs because we have lost touch with reality. We can no longer get results in the real world whether those results be a return on investment, the delivery of a product to market or the discovery of scientific innovations. In the absence of real world results, we turn instead to grand narratives and the grandest narrative of all: that we will conquer a respiratory virus. It’s quite likely that most of the people involved in that system have no idea how delusional they are. They were born into that world and it’s all they know. The fact that their narrative doesn’t correspond to reality is of no concern to them because it hasn’t mattered in the rest of their lives. The narrative is an end in itself and it won’t be until the real world intervenes that they will stop believing.

Just one month ago, Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty on charges of fraud. It took about four years to go through the courts. Maybe in four or five years’ time we’ll see some similar court cases around corona. I’m not holding my breath but you never know.

On Bullying

I’ve been trying to get away from posting about The Devouring Mother, if for no other reason than to avoid sounding like a broken record. Last week’s Djokovic fiasco, however, was too perfect to avoid, especially as I live in Melbourne. This week has provided another topic that I want to address as it’s one of themes I decided to leave out of my book on the subject. But, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s central to the dynamic with particular reference to the acquiescent children aka The Orphan archetype.

The idea occurred to me on seeing this video which has been doing the rounds on the internet the last few days. It shows a couple of children, perhaps twelve years old, on some television show in Canada encouraging setting the police onto the unvaccinated and, in the words of the young girl, pressuring the unvaccinated until they “submit”. The presenters of the show and the audience appear delighted with the children, one even referring to them as “future politicians”.

The video felt to me like another one of those microcosm-macrocosm symbolic moments that have occurred so much in the last two years. What the children are advocating for in the video is bullying. Of course, the bullying of the unvaccinated is precisely what has been happening for about the last six months and it’s been intensifying recently. These young children picked up on the zeitgeist and knew what the adults in the room wanted to hear. Look at the big smiles as they get rewarded by the adults.

The quip about the children being “future politicians” is kind of fitting. Bullying is part of the job description of a politician. Most of the time, the politicians are bullying each other or some hapless public servant and that’s all part of the game. What has happened in the last six months is that we have had the spectacle of politicians bullying the public, specifically the unvaccinated. That’s problematic because in a democratic society a politician is supposed to be a public servant. We pay their salaries and last time I checked we weren’t paying for the service of being gaslit, scapegoated and pilloried. The unvaccinated are still required to pay full taxes despite being banned from a number of public services. There’s even been talk of banning them from health care. None of that makes sense on a logical level. But, we know that what is going on is not logical but archetypal. Bullying is a core trait of The Devouring Mother. That is why our politicians have been bullying the public and that is what the youngsters of Canadian television intuited. It’s open season on bullying the unvaccinated. Step right up, folks, and take a turn.

The sight of young children joining in the scapegoating would be distasteful enough at the best of times. But what makes it symbolically poignant for corona is the fact that bullying has become a hot button issue in the last decade or so. Like the idea of “hate” and the entire subject of biological gender, bullying is a taboo subject. The Victorian department of education and training has a whole website on bullying where it says that bullying is “never okay”. Really? The Premier of the State of Victoria has been giving us a daily masterclass in bullying for almost two years now. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration, in fact, to say that corona has been the greatest display of bullying in history. Certainly it’s the greatest display of bullying of supposedly democratic leaders towards the public. I’m sure none of the people who work in the education bureaucracy have noticed, though, because taboo subjects, of which bullying is now one, inevitably give rise to psychological complexes and that in turn leads to projecting the shadow. A stereotypical case is the raging homophobe who is really a closet homosexual. But it’s the same psychology that leads the people who rail against “hate” to behave the most hatefully and the people who rail against bullying to be the biggest bullies. It’s all just projecting the shadow. In the case our political leaders, they are projecting the shadow which is The Devouring Mother; the societal shadow. That is why they have been behaving as the opposite of public servants.

Bullying is at the heart of The Devouring Mother concept. With all bullying, there is a bully and a victim. Where the mother is the bully, the victim is the acquiescent child aka The Orphan archetype. The rebellious children have learned to deal with the mother’s bullying, almost always by removing themselves from the relationship. Thus, the subject of bullying turns out to be a core dynamic at the heart of the archetype and has something interesting to tell us in particular about the rise of The Orphan archetype.   

To return to the Victorian government’s website, they state that bullying is “not a normal part of growing up.” This is, pardon my French, complete bullshit. Practically everybody experiences bullying when going through school. Almost every story or movie in the coming-of-age genre features bullying as a major theme. Let’s take just one example: the movie Back to the Future and its sequels. The hero of the story, Marty McFly, must learn to deal with the school bully, Biff Tannen. The dynamic between the two is literally the core of the story and drove the movie to be one of the most popular of the 80s. The reason it was so popular is because the theme of bullying is as good as a universal of society.

The universality of bullying extends beyond humans to almost every animal species with a dominance hierarchy. That’s why chickens have a pecking order. The pecking is the bullying. Same goes for dogs, gorillas or what have you. Another coincidence here is that it was Jordan Peterson who introduced the dominance hierarchy to our modern discourse. In doing so, he did nothing more than state the obvious but stating the obvious is necessary these days when you have governments proclaiming blatant falsehoods. Of course, Peterson is a leader of the rebellious children and he became the bete noire of the kinds of people who run the Victorian education bureaucracy who want to insist that bullying is “not natural”.

Another way to think about bullying is that it’s part of the process of forming dominance hierarchies. Justin Trudeau, or Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews are at the top of their respective dominance hierarchies. So, they are really good at bullying. Just ask any of their colleagues, although they’ll probably use a less polite word to describe them than “bully”. The movie Back to the Future explores the correspondence between bullying and dominance hierarchies in great detail because it shows alternative timelines. In one timeline, we see what happens when McFly doesn’t learn to deal with the bully. He ends up in a crappy job with low self-esteem. In the other timeline, McFly gets it right and becomes successful, confident and rich. He even has Biff working for him.

In nature, the dominance hierarchy forms mostly around physical superiority but even then there is room for non-physical factors. Ask any chicken owner and they will tell you the top chook is not necessarily the largest. Even with chickens, the concept of “spirit” plays a role. You could say the most spirited chicken is at the top rather than the physically largest. In Back to the Future, Biff is physically bigger than McFly, but that doesn’t stop McFly from rising higher than him in the hierarchy as long as he learns how to deal with the bully.

The reason bullying features in practically all coming-of-age stories is because learning how to deal with the dominance hierarchy is a core feature of becoming an adult. But learning how to deal with bullying also seems to function as a nexus of a number of important psychological lessons too. The age old advice that you should “stand up to a bully” really means that you must not be intimidated by the bully. Because bullying is part of our animal nature, becoming intimidated is natural when we are confronted with somebody who is or appears stronger. By learning to overcome that natural reaction, you are learning to control your emotions through exercising you will power. You learn to control your instincts rather than have them control you. You subordinate your unconscious to your will. That is a powerful lesson to learn.

You also learn something about the appearance of strength versus the underlying reality. This is another trick used by animals. A male duck or chicken, for example, will put on a show of aggression even to a much larger animal like a human but immediately back down when challenged. Their bark is worse than their bite, as the saying goes. Same with bullies. Almost all bullies back down when challenged. By standing up for yourself you learn that lesson too. In doing so, you learn something about bullying as a phenomena; namely, that is almost always a cover for insecurity. It is precisely the people who lack self-esteem who engage in bullying as a way to compensate. (Note: this is also the underlying driver of The Devouring Mother’s bullying behaviour. She is terrified of her children becoming independent).

So, by learning not to be intimidated by a bully you condense a number of important life lessons into one. You learn how to control your emotions, how to exercise your will power, how to navigate a dominance hierarchy and something about the psychology of the bully.

If all this is true, what can we make of the “war on bullying” that is currently taking place in schools in the West? This is where we have to again differentiate between the ostensible concerns and the unconscious drivers. The ostensible concerns are obvious. Bullying can result in violence and can be traumatic for those who fail to learn how to deal with it. We want to avoid those outcomes wherever possible. The change in “philosophy” that has occurred, however, is the move away from tough love. Tough love knows full well the difficulties involved in confronting a bully but allows it to happen anyway on the understanding that it’s better in the long run. Behind this is the understanding that one way to reduce bullying is to let kids learn how to deal with it. Once enough kids learn to stand up to a bully, the bullying goes away because there’s nobody left to prey on. If the goal is to reduce bullying, letting kids deal with it themselves is a viable, in fact the best, strategy.

Note that this process is almost identical to respiratory viral infection. Learning to deal with bullying is like becoming naturally immune to a virus. That doesn’t mean it goes away entirely. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to deal with bullying ever again. Bullying, like cold and flu viruses, is a natural fact of life. Any place where there is a dominance hierarchy of human beings, there is a potential for bullying. By learning to deal with bullying, you learn to recognise it and also recognise your own response to it. Those of us who haven’t completely lost our minds in the last two years have seen as clear as day the bullying behaviour by our leaders and have been better able to formulate a response. We also know that bullying behaviour comes from weakness. The outbreak of bullying reveals the underlying weakness of our society in spiritual-psychological, political and economic terms.

What if we had never learned how to deal with bullying?

This is the outcome that is being pursued at the moment in our education system. The goal is not to expose children to bullying at all on the assumption that is it “not natural” and “never okay”. But the child who has not learned how to deal with bullying has no “natural immunity”. In addition, we can infer that they have missed out on the other lessons to be learned from bullying i.e. how to control their emotions, how to exercise their willpower, how to deal with a dominance hierarchy. This sounds like a very good description of the millennial generation. It’s also a very good description of The Orphan archetype whose primary trait exactly is that they missed out on stages of development; stages of development like learning how to deal with a bully.

Viewed in this way, the desire not to expose children to bullying is the desire to prevent them learning the developmental lessons involved. But stifling development of the child is exactly what The Devouring Mother does. The archetype that results is The Orphan.

None of the bureaucrats in the education department would be conscious of the fact that the system they are running is set up precisely to produce archetypal Orphans. Our modern school system doesn’t consciously produce any type of person and the whole idea that it should is anathema to it. This is very unusual by historical standards and formed one of the critiques of the modern education system by thinkers as far back as G.K. Chesterton. The old British public school system, for example, was deftly configured to produce the type of the English gentleman. The educators in that system were accutely aware that that was what they were doing. The education provided was about producing a type of person. As such, it was as much about learning manners and dress sense as about book learning. You had to learn how to behave as a gentleman. The same idea held for Catholic schools and even the old trade schools although they were producing a different type of person.

Our modern schools aim to produce no specific type of person and yet they clearly are producing a psychological type: The Orphan.

This reminds me of another line from Chesterton who said that the problem with the person who stops believing in God is not that they believe nothing but that they believe anything. I think we can translate this into psychological terms as follows: if you don’t act consciously, you will act unconsciously. It’s not that the you will believe anything, it’s that whatever your profess to believe is irrelevant because your psyche is now being run by the subconscious. That is, of course, what is going on right now in western society and especially in Australia and Canada. It’s for that reason that the behaviour in the last two years has been so incredibly uniform and has coalesced around the archetypes of The Devouring Mother and The Orphan.

If that’s true, then the number one task to redress the problem is to return to consciousness and to ask the question: who are we and what are we doing? There’s going to need to be an awful lot of soul searching in the years ahead.

Final thoughts on the Djokovic saga

There’s a story, I think from around the time of the Irish Rebellion, where one of the rebels upon being mercilessly bashed by an English soldier asks his assailant “Why do you hate us so much?” to which the soldier replies “because look at what you make us do to you.”

I imagine today Novak Djokovic asking the country of Australia “why do you hate me so much” and Australia responding “because look at what you made us do to you.”

It is arguably one of the defining features of humans that we have the choice at any time not to fall into the roles assigned to us but to exercise our free will. The English soldier didn’t have to bash the Irishman, it’s just what was required of him by the situation. Although we have free will, the exercising of free will is often the more difficult option because it requires us to re-evaluate and ask the question “who am I?” That was the option presented to the Australian government and by extension the Australian people this week. We chose to do what the English solider did. Rather than exercise our free will and ask the question “who are we and what are we doing”, we went with what was required of us by the archetype that is dominant at the moment, The Devouring Mother.

What is so fascinating about the case is that the Australian Government and Djokovic both found themselves in the pattern dictated by the archetype even though neither wanted it to happen and even though neither gained anything from it. That’s how life goes. The Irish revolutionary did not want to get caught and bashed by the English soldier and the English soldier did not want to bash another Irishman. But they fell into these roles anyway and so did we and Djokovic.

I’m not sure why Djokovic decided to take his deportation to court. He never had a chance at winning for the reason that the law is specifically written to allow the Immigration Minister to deport whoever he wants. Djokovic’s lawyers must have told him he had almost no chance but he decided to go ahead anyway.

For those who don’t know, the Australian government’s official reason for deporting Djokovic was that he “might” cause “anti-vax sentiment”, whatever the hell that is. Djokovic’s lawyer did a great job of outlining the ridiculousness of this claim but, as the government’s lawyer pointed out, the Immigration Minister is not required to provide a satisfactory reason and the court is not free to find his reasons lacking, hence the fact that Djokovic never had a chance.

Let’s step back and look at what has just happened during the last week and a bit.

The Australian government granted Djokovic a visa and a medical exemption. Djokovic, who could have had no clue what was about to happen, showed up to play tennis. That’s his job, after all. He gets detained at the airport on grounds that are later found to be spurious during a four day court case in which he is detained in a dingy hotel. He is released by the court and starts training for the Australian Open until the Immigration Minister cancels his visa on grounds of spreading “anti-vax sentiment”.

Did Djokovic come here with the intention of spreading “anti-vax sentiment”? No. Would he have said a single word about covid or vaccines while he was here (unless invited to do so). Of course not. Why would he? As Djokovic’s lawyer did a great job at pointing out during the court case today, there is no evidence that Djokovic has willingly and publicly aligned himself with the “anti-vax” movement, whatever that is. Rather, he became associated with that movement only after the Australian government first detained him. In other words, the Australian government caused the very thing that it would later accuse Djokovic of. If it had never given him a visa in the first place or if it had never detained him at the airport, none of this would have happened. He would have played tennis, probably won, and then gone home and everybody would have been happy. If the Australian government was really concerned with subduing “anti-vax” sentiment, it couldn’t have done a worse job. Note that this is an example of projecting the shadow. The Australian government, having created “anti-vax sentiment” by screwing up Djokovic’s immigration process, then accused him of creating “anti-vax sentiment”. The whole thing sounds absurd but only if you apply a causal lens. The reality is such things are acausal. Just like the English soldier and Irish revolutionary, it happened because predefined roles exist and the government and Djokovic “accidentally” fell into those roles.

Let’s take an everyday example of what I mean. For bullying to occur, there must be a bully and a victim. We typically think of the bully as the “active” participant while the victim is “passive”. But the victim must “choose” to participate in the bullying. If they don’t, there is no bullying. That’s why parents will tell their children to stand up to a bully. In the absence of intimidation, bullying becomes something different. Mostly it becomes nothing because the bully backs down. The would-be victim has denied the frame they were invited to participate in.

It’s not always the bully who initiates the frame. A depressed teenager walking round with shoulders slumped and a miserable expression becomes a magnet for a bully. They are creating the frame for bullying whether they like it or not. Note that this is something that Jordan Peterson has touched on. One of the reasons why you should stand with your shoulders back is so you don’t attract bullies.

Archetypes and social scripts are like the grammar of a language. If you have a transitive verb you must also have a subject and object. If you don’t, your sentence is not grammatical. Grammar is formal. It creates a frame. A similar thing happens all the time in interpersonal relationships. One person, often subconsciously, creates a frame which has roles for others to fill. If I offer you a job, I create a frame where you become an employee. But it can work the other way around too. In one of my favourite Seinfeld episodes, Kramer shows up at an office and starts acting like he works there. He immediately gets invited to meetings and given work to do. It’s funny cos the usual order of cause and effect is inverted but we also know it would work in real life. In a similar way, smiling can make you feel good even though usually a smile follows the emotion. Frames are a bit like electrical circuits. You need all elements to complete the circuit. Furthermore, any starting point you identify in a circuit you can call the “cause” and everything after the “effect” but this is not really valid. Any starting point will do.

If all this can happen at the individual level, it can also happen at the societal. The Australian Government and Novak Djokovic just got caught in the archetypal circuit that is The Devouring Mother. In its behaviour towards Djokovic, the government was arbitrary, vindictive and callous, just like a devouring mother. The key point, however, is that it had absolutely no interest in behaving that way. Everything the government did in the last week was against the national interest. Why did it do it? Why did the solider bash the Irish revolutionary even though he didn’t want to? Because the pattern demanded it. The archetype demanded it in this case because Djokovic had unintentionally fallen into the role of the rebellious child. As Djokovic’s lawyer pointed out in court today, there is no evidence that Djokovic wanted that role. He came to Australia for the obvious reason of winning a tennis tournament for which he was the hot favourite. He would have won millions of dollars in prize money. Instead, he goes home having wasted probably hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and spent almost a week living in a dingy room in a hotel. Nothing that happened here has furthered his interests.

What this shows is that we can all fall into archetypal situations whether we like it or not. The Irish revolutionary did not want to get bashed. The English soldier did not want to do the bashing. But that’s what happened. The Australian Government did not want to spoil this country’s reputation and ruin one of our main sporting events. Djokovic did not want to lose a heap of money and become an object of hatred. But that’s what happened. The whole Djokovic saga is a straight loss for all concerned. That’s what happens when a Shadow archetype is running the show.

As one final side note, I found the case today interesting for the importance of the meaning of words and how propaganda has real world implications. The phrase “anti-vaxxer” has become nothing more than a slur word. Like “fascist” it has some vague historical connotation, some potential link to reality, but its meaning has been twisted. The meaning of the anti-vax slur has been expanded now to include people who are also against government measures to enforce vaccinations. That is a completely different issue from the one of whether vaccines work. It is perfectly possible to be pro vaccine and anti-vaccine mandate. Nevertheless, in the last week we have had the Australian Government and the Federal Court of Australia use the word “anti-vaxxer” in this new fashion. Like archetypes and social roles, words are patterns and once a pattern becomes established it gets used even in important court cases. Thus we had the spectacle of Djokovic being imputed as an “anti-vaxxer” even though there is no evidence the he has ever spoken on the subject beyond his own personal decision not to take the corona vaccine. Can you imagine finding yourself in court where the entire discussion is about something you’ve never advocated for or said? That’s what Djokovic would have gone through today. It must have been surreal to say the least. All he did was come to Australia and try to play tennis.

Anthropological field notes from a trip to Melbourne, Australia

After two years of delays, I received word that my field trip to Australia was finally to go ahead. Conditions for the trip were subject to significant uncertainty due to the continuing social upheaval in the country. But with no end in sight to the current confusion, it was deemed a case of now or never and I accepted the risks and boarded the plane for Melbourne.

What became apparent from the very first but which I was very reluctant to accept was the dreadful state of our anthropological literature on the country of Australia. The picture given to me by our reference books jarred so strongly with the country I experienced by my senses and intellect that I wondered whether or not the pilot had taken me on a misadventure to a completely different land. I shall attempt in these initial notes to convey the main points of difference between the reality I saw and our lofty tomes on the matter and thereby to begin to correct our understanding.

The first error which I mean to correct is the notion that Australia is a culture devoid of faith, religion and religious ceremony. From the very first, my journey to Melbourne forced me repeatedly to call this assumption into doubt. Indeed, the Australians have as sophisticated and complex an array of religious ceremonies as any culture that we nominally call religious. Entry to the country is predicated on one such ceremony known as a “test” whereby a member of the priestly caste dressed in a full ceremonial outfit suffered me to open my mouth and have a special stick stuck down my throat. The stick, known as the “sample”, is promptly presented to the oracle who decides whether entry into the country may be allowed. Fortunately, in my case, the oracle favoured my entry. However, several others were not so lucky and were thus tripped up at the first hurdle.

On arrival at the airport in Melbourne, members of the priestly caste were once again highly notable for their elaborate outfits by which they were distinguished from the functionaries responsible for processing my paperwork for entry. Of this priestly caste I will have more to say presently. But let us now attempt a brief description of the religion from which the priestly caste derive their authority.

The god of the Australians they call by the name “science”. It is, to be sure, a very strange god by both anthropological and theological standards for the Australians say their god is nothing more or less than truth itself. Apart from truth, he has no properties. This disembodied god has no feelings nor emotions, he appears not in any art or painting and only rarely and very indirectly in literature and song. One might say of this god that he is all head and no heart. In this way he is perhaps the exact opposite of the old god who ruled in the west who was all heart and no head.

Of the priestly caste I have hitherto referred, the highest type are known as the “experts” and it is they who intermediate between the god and the general public.  Now this leads us to the second great error in our anthropological literature on the country of Australia for it is said that the Australians have a separation of church and state and that the priestly caste and the political class are entirely divorced from each other. Nothing could be further from the truth. The priestly caste, the experts, run the country to such a degree that I often found it difficult to ascertain in what way the political caste was involved at all. A phrase I heard repeated over and again by the political caste was that they were just “following the advice” while the common folk would often admonish each other to “trust the experts”. In this way, fealty to the god and to the priestly caste is almost universally practiced by the highest and lowest members of the society.

The main day-to-day responsibility of the priestly caste of experts is to cast oracles which are referred to as “models”. These oracles are used extensively by the political class and the general public. It would not be an exaggeration to say that most of the activities of daily life are based around these oracles, once again putting paid to the notion that the Australians are an irreligious people. Indeed, it was the casting of such oracles in March 2020 that led the Australians to completely overturn their social arrangements, a matter I will return to presently.

Oftentimes I asked my informant to explain such and such a cultural practice and he would refer back to the oracle as if that by itself was enough explanation. The wearing of a mask, for example, is dictated by an oracle who at any time may declare that the mask must be worn indoors, outdoors or not at all. The dictates of the oracle are final. Several times, upon attempting to interpret the oracles for myself, I asked whether or not they seemed incorrect and my informant simply laughed and said that I must “trust the experts” and that was the end of the matter.

Beneath the experts in the priestly caste are a number of lower level ranks among whom are counted the “bureaucrats”, the “journalists”, the “fact checkers” and the “opinion writers”. It is their role to disseminate the expert “opinion” and the details of the latest oracle readings to which the public must adhere. It is here that a significant change has occurred in Australian society since the great upheaval of 2020 for a new class of experts have come to prominence and replaced the old readings with new oracles while also implementing a completely new set of social practices and ceremonies. The old oracles which governed society were from the experts in the field known as “economics” and the name of the priestly caste were the “economists”. However, beginning in March of 2020, a new caste took power who call themselves “epidemiologists”. These epidemiologists threw out the old oracles such as the “GDP” oracle, the “inflation” oracle and the “unemployment” oracle, and implemented new ones, the most important of which is the “cases” oracle. It alone seems to drive much of the new practices and ceremonies that have been introduced by the new priestly caste.

The majority of the public does not concern itself with the act of divination, preferring simply to be told what the latest reading is. Nevertheless, the “cases” oracle is all important in Australian society. It is the first thing a man checks of a morning whereupon he gives much thought to what the oracle portends for his business, his career and his personal life. The political and merchant class also pays much attention to the oracle and will often announce new ceremonies and rules based on the oracle reading. Even in my short time in the country, I was surprised by the varying nature of the oracle which one day says this and the other says that and the two have little to do with each other. This has been the charge of a small group that has formed within the society who have criticised the new priestly caste of epidemiologists saying their readings of the oracle are false and there seemed to me to be substantive grounds for this accusation. However, when I put the idea to my informant he became angry and I was keen to avoid the subject thereafter.

This latter observation also contradicts the statements in our literature on the country of Australia where the Australians are said to be an easy going and satisfied people. This was not my impression at all but rather a general tension was the predominant emotional atmosphere of the land leading often to anxiety and anger in equal parts. This tension seemed to me directly related to the arrival of the new priestly caste who have implemented many new ceremonies and practices in a very short period of time from an anthropological point of view. This has included a society-wide initiation ceremony known as a “vaccination” which is now a significant determinant of a man’s social standing. Many of the new ceremonies and practices follow directly from participation in this ritual and this has caused significant discontinuity for many members of the public who do not wish to partake in the ritual saying that the oracles used to justify it have been read wrong while also denying the ascendancy of the new priestly caste about whom they say they were not consulted.

The speed with which the new priestly caste has taken power has given rise to a small but determined sect of dissenters that is made up a wide cross section of the society including a number of members of the priestly caste itself. These have been written off as blasphemers and heretics in the usual fashion by the use of such derogatory phrases as “anti-vaxxer” and “conspiracy theorist”. It appeared to me as if what had happened in the last two years in Australia was really the beginning of a sectarian religious split although my understanding of this was greatly hampered by the curious fact that the Australians themselves do not believe they are partaking of a religion at all and thus any attempt to get my informant to speak on the subject hit a dead end. If I may speak philosophically rather than anthropologically for a moment, it seems to me problematic that the Australians believe their god to be truth itself for this negates appeal to their god on any other basis while also preventing the questioning of the oracles which are assumed to be correct a priori rather than a posteriori.

In closing, I posit that one explanation why our anthropological literature has got it so wrong on the country of Australia is perhaps because the country, like many of its civilisational sister countries, is right in the middle of what is either a religious collapse, revival or realignment. Which of these it is and the exact nature of the phenomena are not clear but I suggest that subsequent field trips in the years ahead will repay the investment by what looks to be a major anthropological change occurring with great rapidity.

The Joker in the Hole

The corona event rolls on and the synchronicities just keeping piling up. For those of us with an eye to symbolism, this week has provided yet more grist for the Jungian mill. Of course, it had to happen here in Melbourne, Australia’s home of corona and the city with the world record for the longest lockdown. Hooray for us, we’ve spent almost 300 days of the last two years locked in our houses pursuing the grand prize of covid 0. But, as the saying goes: play silly games, win silly prizes. In the last few weeks, cases are through the roof here and we’re now up to 20k a day. It was not always so.

This time last year, we seemed to have won the battle. Covid had been “eliminated” and we enjoyed a normal summer free of masks, QR codes, vaccine mandates and segregation based on private medical decisions. Life was good. Our Premier, Dan Andrews, was on medical leave having fallen down a set of stairs and injured his back. In 2020, he had been the arch-Devouring Mother during our second lockdown castigating citizens for bad behaviour and gaslighting the public on a daily basis all while desperately trying to avoid the blame for his government’s obvious incompetence at causing Melbourne to be the only place in Australia to be locked down. His absence from public life at that time was as if the spiritual clouds had cleared and we enjoyed a sunny summer in both a meteorological and a psychic sense.

Fast forward to today: Mr Andrews is again on holiday, this time by choice. In the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, covid zero is a distant memory. The Australian authorities have changed tack and now decided to pull the band aid off and allow the inevitable to happen. Mr Andrews’ holiday comes at a politically convenient time for him because it means that he doesn’t have to get up in front of the press and explain why we apparently don’t care about covid anymore after locking down the state for two years. He has built his entire political capital in that time by pandering to the True Believers. But they are not happy. They weren’t happy even before this week. The lines to get PCR tested are absurdly long. There are stories of people camping overnight to get tested because the test centres keep closing in the middle of the day due to lack of capacity. This is, of course, just the latest example of government ineptitude but this time it is directly affecting the True Believers, many of whom are catching covid and realising that the vaccines don’t do what they were supposed to. This was always going to happen, of course. Australia is currently going through the necessary metamorphosis that will lead to whatever comes next. In the process, however, lots of people are really angry, especially here in Melbourne.

It was into this psychic morass that Novak Djokovic waded in the last few days as he tried to travel here for the upcoming Australian Open.

Tennis is the only sport I follow, so this whole thing is a bit of a personal synchronicity and I can speak with some confidence on the subject. Djokovic is clearly the best player the game has ever seen and he is one grand slam victory away from making that official. He is also, to use a typically Australian phrase, a top bloke and, to take the matter a little bit further into the dangerous realm of gender politics, a real man. As a real man, he says what needs to be said even when it is unpopular to say it. He is a man who can speak truth to power and he has been doing that his whole career. Despite being the greatest player on tour, he has not been the crowd favourite. Federer and Nadal hold that title. In Federer’s case this is understandable. Djokovic may be the best player ever but Federer is surely the most beautiful. He is the very Platonic form of a tennis player. If the ancient Greeks played tennis, it would have been Federer they carved into stone, not Djokovic. To switch metaphors, Federer is the Lamborghini of tennis players. He looks great but has a habit of faltering under pressure and has mostly been outplayed by the grit and determination of both Nadal and Djokovic when they hit their peak. Djokovic, like Nadal, is a muscle car. He doesn’t look as good but he gets to the finish line quicker.

But there’s clearly something happening in the popularity stakes that goes beyond the aesthetics of the game of tennis. Djokovic has a nasty habit of saying things that are politically incorrect while Federer and Nadal are very much conformists. Overnight, Nadal towed the party line when asked to comment about Djokovic’s problems with Australian immigration. He said that we should trust the medical professionals and that the vaccines are the thing that will bring the pandemic to an end. He said this despite the fact that he caught covid just a month ago thus proving the point that should be blindingly obvious by now that the vaccines do not prevent infection and therefore cannot bring the pandemic to an end. Nadal is saying what people want to hear and possibly he also believes it. In any case, he is the poster boy for all those people, including those who are fully vaccinated and yet still catching covid, who don’t want to acknowledge the truth. Meanwhile, Djokovic, whether he wanted to or not, represents the truth that people don’t want to hear: the vaccines are a failure; everything we did in the last two years was for nothing; it doesn’t make any difference if you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated. Bill Hicks once made the point that we don’t have a very good history of dealing with people who tell the truth: Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, the list goes on. Add Djokovic to it. He’s now sitting in jail.

The details of how it happened are still not clear. It looks to me like bureaucratic bungling combined with cheap politicking. The Victorian Government knew it had to allow Djokovic to play or risk having the Australian Open taken off it. It responded in the time-honoured way of governments who need to allow something to happen but can’t be seen to condone it: it created an obfuscatory bureaucratic process according to which Djokovic was granted a “medical exemption”. But it’s the federal government that is responsible for border control. Either through bureaucratic bungling or political interference, the feds decided Djokovic couldn’t get in. No doubt we’ll get the full story in the next days.

As with the rest of corona, however, the facts are irrelevant. The Djokovic saga cannot be just a random sequence of things that led to an outcome. The probabilities are impossible. What are the odds that this would happen in Melbourne, the home of the world’s longest corona lockdown? Why is the State Premier, the arch Devouring Mother, on holiday when it happens? Why is it happening right when we are in the middle of a mass outbreak of covid despite the fact that the population is more than 90% vaccinated? Why is it happening in Australia where we are among the worst countries in the world for discarding human rights in the last two years? It’s all too synchronous. More importantly, the symbolism matches up too perfectly.

So, let’s put our Jungian hats on and do a lightning tour through the symbolism of the Djokovic saga.

The Park Hotel

At time of writing, Djokovic is being kept at the Park Hotel in Melbourne while his legal appeal is being heard. Other residents at the Park Hotel are “illegal” refugees who have been there for – get this – 9 years. The hotel has become a permanent protest site for those objecting to Australia’s treatment of refugees and now the world’s number one tennis player is living amongst them. Australia’s treatment of refugees is in direct contravention of the humans rights charter just as our government’s response to corona has contravened human rights. You simply couldn’t find a better place to highlight that fact than the Park Hotel.

But there’s more. The Park Hotel was also one our “quarantine hotels” in the last two years and the site of major outbreaks of covid due to the incompetence of the state government. If you wanted to highlight that fact, you couldn’t do better than house the world’s number one tennis player there.

The Park Hotel is therefore the perfect symbol for the Australian government’s abuse of human rights not just of foreign citizens but our own citizens. It is also the perfect symbol for the Victorian government’s incompetence and corruption. And Djokovic is now staying at the Park Hotel because of the incompetence and corruption of both state and federal governments. Him being there is a symbol not just of our incompetence but our callous indifference to human rights that, until corona, was directed toward foreigners but during corona has been directed towards our own citizens. How you treat “the other” is how you also treat yourself. Jung would agree. So would Jesus and we’ll get to that shortly.


The free movement of peoples is one of the founding principles of globalism and specifically neo-liberal globalism. Of course, as the refugees at the Park Hotel can attest, it was always the free movement of “approved people” and with corona the list of “approved people” is getting shorter. Whatever the moral arguments here, there is a significant question of logistics. We now have special visa categories, special exemption categories, special tribunals to adjudicate special cases etc etc. The whole thing is a bureaucratic nightmare and an economic disaster. You can’t run an international tennis tournament this way and you can’t run globalism this way. Either governments get rid of the stupid rules or they will suffer the economic consequences. Australia is going to suffer consequences from the Djokovic saga as our international reputation again gets tarnished.

It’s also noteworthy that this is now a major diplomatic rift between Australia and Serbia. I doubt that matters too much to either country because I’m pretty sure there’s not a lot of commerce that goes on there. But eventually this kind of rift will spread to more important relationships. That’s what happens when the old rules break down. We can expect to see more of this in the years and decades ahead as countries get into disputes because the rules are no longer clear. It’s not hard to see that that pathway ends in the reappearance of one of the other four horsemen. The Australian government was unable to prevent a diplomatic incident in this case where the only thing that rests on it is a tennis tournament. What happens when governments are unable to prevent diplomatic incidents about things that are really important?

The Rebellious Children

Add Djokovic to the list with Jordan Peterson and others who are now spiritual leaders of the rebellious children. Note that the qualities are the same: the willingness to speak uncomfortable truths, the moral backbone to stand for what you believe in and suffer personal consequences etc. Whatever happens from here, Djokovic wins on the symbolic front against the anonymous, amorphous blob which is the powers that be hiding behind stupid bureaucratic rules powered by hysterical emotional energy. Meanwhile, Djokovic’s father gave a great speech saying exactly that.

As a side note, I was a bit of heavy metal tragic in my teen years and one of my favourite bands was Anthrax who have a song called One Man Stands. The lyrics could not be more fitting for the Djokovic saga –

Away in a manger

The world’s greatest tennis player, a rich and powerful man, but more importantly a man of moral conviction, is now staying in a hotel with a group of powerless and probably stateless refugees. The whole thing has a bit of the symbolism of Jesus about it. Djokovic is a member of the Orthodox church and actively involved in charitable foundations. As has been widely publicised, he donated money to Australia after the bushfires of 2019.

Meanwhile, the Australian Prime Minister went on twitter yesterday and said “rules are rules” in relation to the Djokovic case; the exact excuse given by Pontius Pilate.

The Shadow of corona

Corona was supposed to be a victory for science and progress. It has failed but, in true Jungian fashion, its proponents are not admitting failure but projecting the shadow of that failure onto the unvaccintated. Djokovic is now the symbolic representation of the unvaccinated and the True Believers are projecting their shadow onto him.

The Joker

Djokovic’s nickname is The Joker. The Joker has a range of symbolic meanings. Here’s just a handful.

  • In almost all card games where The Joker is used, The Joker is the most valuable card and trumps all other cards.
  • The Joker corresponds to The Fool in tarot and signifies among other things both the end of the old and the beginning of the new.
  • The Joker character relates to the Trickster archetype which symbolises, among other things the bridge to the unconscious. Thus, The Joker often symbolises mental illness/imbalance eg. The Joker in Batman. Mass psychosis anyone?
  • The Joker also relates to dionysian activities like dancing and having fun. Singing and dancing was banned over the weekend in NSW. Meanwhile, the Serbian fans of Djokovic have been singing and dancing out the front of The Park Hotel the last few days. Djokovic was also famously “caught” dancing in a nightclub in Serbia during the corona hysteria of 2020.

The Joker vs Karen

I only realised this once Djokovic had won his court case and I’ve been laughing about it ever since.

The court case was against the Home Affairs minister whose first name is none other than KAREN (Andrews).

Karen is the name which has emerged in popular culture in recent years to capture The Devouring Mother phenomenon. Although, not one hundred percent synonymous, your average Karen is a Devouring Mother (Caregiver archetype in shadow form).

So, we have Novak (no-vaxx) Djokovic (The Joker) beating Karen (The Devouring Mother) in court.

As the saying goes: you couldn’t make it up.

Melbourne as sporting capital

Melbourne prides itself on being “sports mad” and the “sporting capital of Australia”. In jailing the world’s number one player who has won the Australian Open 9 times, we act in the complete opposite way to the story we tell ourselves. If things go bad from here, it is not impossible that Melbourne will have the Australian Open taken away for somewhere more civilised. As my grandmother used to say, that’s called cutting your nose to spite your face.

The Djokovic saga is another addition to the long list of symbolic inversions we have seen during corona where we have behaved in exactly the opposite way to what we thought we were. Some of the more important symbolic inversions we have seen are the notion that children must be sacrificed to protect the elderly (child vaccinations, lockdowns etc), so-called liberal democracies behaving in a way that is indistinguishable from totalitarian dictatorships, the switch from globalisation to a hyper localisation. Melbourne as “sports capital” jailing one of the world’s great sportsmen is a trivial addition to the list but still noteworthy.

Revelation of the true self

But the previous is point is also part of a larger socio-psychological revelation that corona has unleashed. We may have been “all in this together” at the start but that is no longer the case. Each nation is now on its own journey and the journey no longer has anything to do with a virus but is a spiritual journey.

Earlier, I referenced the Australian Prime Minister’s tweet in which he also made reference to Australia’s “strong border policies”. He’s right. It’s those same border policies that have seen refugees locked in the Park Hotel for 9 years. It’s by those same border policies that we have seen fit to abrogate our human rights obligations. But the subtext in Morrison’s tweet is an appeal to the one true bedrock of Australian politics and culture: xenophobia. There is a federal election this year and Mr Morrison is banking on doing what his predecessor, John Howard, did and trying to cash in on the latent xenophobia that exists in our culture. It’s very Australian, although not the Australia that we like to present to the world. Nevertheless, we are presenting it to the world. Corona has revealed what we really are, the ugly underbelly of our nation.

It has, of course, done the same for many other countries. That’s why Europe is currently reverting back to authoritarianism. It’s why corona in the US has primarily been about corruption and economic racketeering. Here in Australia, we were slowly inching back to the pragmatism which dominated our political culture prior to corona. Things were actually looking good for a couple of weeks and then the Djokovic thing blew up. Once again, I can’t help but feel that there is a symbolic calling here. “The Gods” just won’t leave us alone here in Melbourne. We seem to be being called to confront our own demons. It’s simply too weird and unlikely that Djokovic would be at the Park Hotel of all places, in Melbourne of all places. Melbourne has manifested the shadow more vociferously than almost any other place in the last two years and it seems that the universe is determined to hold up a mirror in which we see ourselves as if demanding that we acknowledge what we really are.

The start of 2022

This leads onto the final point I want to make which is the timing. Did this have to happen in the first week of 2022? Could it be that this is what is portended for the new year? That we must face our shadow, not just Australia but every country. That we must also face the shadow of the whole corona debacle and admit that it is a failure. I admit this seems incredibly unlikely but so is the fact that the world’s best tennis player is currently under arrest in the supposedly civilised country of Australia. So is everything else that has happened in the last two years. If it does happen, if we can start to face our shadow, it could be a good year.