Wolves in Sheep's Clothing
Before I dive in, I feel I should preface my remarks with a few caveats. First of all, I'm a software programmer, so I'm not a bona fide expert on any fields that are relevant to these topics. I don't have a PhD in economics or political science like some of the conspiracy theorists (and cab drivers) do, so perhaps I'm speaking from a viewpoint of some ignorance. I'll admit that. I'll also admit that I'm a bit sarcastic at times. But that's just me trying to turn something very bitter into something funny. It's how I cope. Remember, I'm just expressing my opinions here, and that's all.
This essay got started because of Art Bell and Gary North. Bell had North on his show sometime in May 1998 talking about the Year 2000 (Y2K) crisis about to hit the world. This was the first time I had ever heard of Art Bell, and although I had been to North's site once before, I was pretty new to him too.
When I first heard the show, it hit me hard. I mean, here was a pretty rational-sounding moderator asking pretty rational-sounding questions, and he was becoming convinced. In the course of a couple of hours, he was turned from a skeptic to a believer, and so was I.
But I didn't take this all at face value. I started doing some digging. I wasn't looking for anything bad -- just some facts that would show whether North is on the level, and whether the downside potential of the Y2K situation was really as bad as he said. Unfortunately, it became like digging up an old outhouse: the deeper I dug, the more things started to stink.
Gary North: Not Who He Seems
Whenever I hear a doom-and-gloomer prophesying the End of the World As We Know It, I ask myself a few simple questions: Is he a nut? Does he really believe what he's saying? Does he have a hidden agenda? Is he selling something?
At first, my answers to these questions were No, Yes, I don't see one, and No. But as time went on, these answers eroded into some very unsavory ones. Let's go over them point by point:
Dr. Gary North has a PhD in economics, and is very articulate on the air. He runs a web site with nearly 2000 links to articles and other sites dealing with various Y2K issues, and running something that size takes a clear head -- I know that firsthand. He's obviously intelligent, and he doesn't rant and rave and froth at the mouth. At least not in public, when lots of people are watching. But that doesn't mean anything one way or the other.
In the end, it really depends on your own point of view, and what you consider a "nut" to be. I have an essentially scientific view of life, so anyone who starts talking about astrology, Nostradamus, aliens living among us, etc., automatically goes into my "nut" category, because they're ready to believe things without sufficient proof. Likewise, anyone with a strong religious agenda makes me nervous. I don't dismiss them as "nuts" because by default I respect anyone's religious beliefs, but I do tend to steer clear of them: they're often very dangerous people.
So is Gary North a nut? I don't know, but I believe he is very scary and very dangerous. I'll expound on that a little later.
Yes and no. This answer ties in with the next one about his hidden agenda, so I'll just answer it here and provide more details there. Gary North believes -- and hopes -- with all his heart that there will be a major upheaval of our society and of the entire world's civilized societies. He discovered Y2K and found that it fit his vision perfectly. He didn't examine Y2K first with an open mind and then conclude that it would cause major havoc. He already believed that havoc was coming, and backed into Y2K as a way to explain it.
Bottom line, if Y2K weren't around, he would have found something else to predict an apocalypse. In the 80's, he said it would be AIDS. In the 90's, it's Y2K. And when civilization does not fall in 2000, he'll take a couple of years to regroup and find something else.
Yes, absolutely. At first I wasn't aware of it, because he stays fairly low-key about it during his radio appearances and at his web site, but he is attaching a huge Christian agenda to Y2K. And this explains a lot. It explains why he's so obsessed by it, and why he often seems to take a tone that relishes the idea of the coming (did I hear someone say second coming?) apocalypse.
This is so typical of the Christian right (and just about any other religious group, for that matter), taking a complex issue and attaching a religious significance to it. They did this with AIDS, for instance, saying it's God's way of punishing homosexuals. But wait, what about hemophiliacs? Um, uh, go away kid, ya bother me. What about the innocent children who have died of AIDS? Then they invoke the old standby, "the Lord moves in mysterious ways." Right.
Well, heck, people have been predicting the second coming since two weeks after Jesus died. It hasn't happened yet, and the odds that Y2K is going to bring it on are pretty damn slim. If God wanted a real apocalypse, I don't think he'd need to go through all the trouble of influencing the minds of thousands of programmers over a forty-year period, telling them that two-digit years are a good idea. Or of making sure the economics of mass storage were such that we would deem it too expensive to store four-digit years. I mean, if he created the sun and the stars, he clearly has nuclear capability, so why pussyfoot around? Or even simpler, just fling a big ol' asteroid at us. After all, he didn't need Y2K to deal with the dinosaurs.
Does Gary North have a hidden agenda? This is a quote directly from an email he sent in 1997:
Of course I want to see y2k bring down the system, all over the world. I have hoped for this all of my adult life.
North is what is known as a Christian Reconstructionist, an extreme form of post-millennial, Calvinistic Protestantism. Here's his definition of Christian Reconstructionism from something he wrote almost 15 years ago ("Backward Christian Soldiers? An Action Manual For Christian Reconstruction" -- Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984): Christian Reconstructionism is a recently articulated philosophy which argues that it is the moral obligation of Christians to recapture every institution for Jesus Christ. It proclaims "the crown rights of King Jesus." The means by which this task might be accomplished -- a few CR's are not convinced that it can be -- is biblical law. This is the "tool of dominion." We have been assigned a dominion covenant -- a God-given assignment to men to conquer in His name (Gen 1:23; 9:1-7). The founders of the movement have combined four basic Christian beliefs into one overarching system: 1) biblical law, 2) optimistic eschatology, 3) predestination (providence), and 4) presuppositional apologetics (philosophical defense of the faith).
Y2K is just the latest thing that North has attached himself to. It's a great, logical way to explain what he's already believed and hoped for, for a long time. For instance, he's been a survivalist since the sixties. Here's an excerpt from his January '98 newsletter: Many newcomers (post-1980) to Christian Reconstruction do not know the early history of the movement. For the record, I was an investor in the rural retreat set up by R. J. Rushdoony in 1965-66. So were my parents. So were dozens of other families. The property was located near San Luis Obispo, California. The investors were people who had bought gold and silver based on Mr. Rushdoony's recommendation (and mine). The project collapsed, as communes tend to do, in a nasty split. No one ever actually moved there. It was at the time of this survival center that he wrote his booklet, Preparation for the Future, in which he out- lined his hard-money, survivalist views. Mr. Rushdoony now lives on the top of a hill in the gold mining country of California. Would-be urban survivalists would salivate over his set-up. He went there in 1976 to get away from Los Angeles. He asked me to go there, too. I didn't. I went to Lynden, Washington -- still a safe place.
In short, the two founders of Christian Reconstruction preached survivalism and eventual social collapse even before there was a Christian Reconstruction paradigm -- before The Institutes of Biblical Law. Mr. Lindsey's sweeping statement about what Christian Reconstruction teaches on personal re- location is uninformed historically. He was not present at the creation of this movement, and he obviously knows little of its early history. R. J. Rushdoony got me into survivalism. He has been far more consistent geographically in pursuing his vision than I have been. I have now escalated my efforts to catch up with him on this point. I suggest you do the same. Soon.
Wait a minute. This is from his newsletter? He has a newsletter? You bet. And that leads us to the last question...
Don't be fooled by his free web site, and his attempts to say that he's doing all this to save lives. He's doing this to make money. And he's been in it for the money from the very beginning.
Some friends of mine recently received a 32-page direct mail piece, and they were kind enough to give it to me. I was truly astonished at what I had found, and it was one of the primary motivators to get me to write this page.
The mailer was advertising "The Remnant Review", Gary North's newsletter. At first I thought it was a Y2K newsletter he started recently when he discovered Y2K, but no, he's been doing this for 22 years! And now for a mere $129, I could receive 12 "valuable" issues and join the ranks of his followers.
This guy is slick, man. He's a real smart operator: he has a huge machine in place, busily extracting money from people with his newsletter, while at the same time, he operates his free web site and can claim that he's doing it for the good of mankind. Bull!
Let's look at the numbers. Here's an email he sent a while back. It shocked the hell out of me when I read it.
To: Charles Reuben From: Gary North Subject: Re: BS At 01:19 PM 7/17/97 -0500, you wrote: >> . I figured you out months ago: a real estate salesman with >>scientific pretentions.. >> ,,,,,,,,, >Wrong. That is about as accurate as your so-called "analysis" of the >Year 2000 Date Change problem or your use of the term "Economic Historian". >Charlie Reuben, Wrong as I may be, I'm mailing out 250,000 pieces a month with my scenario. Meanwhile, you're showing guys property to buy. I think my version will win out. And i didn't capitalize oine pejorative phrase. Yourdon has bought my 90% of my analysis and is now publishing a survival book on it. http://www.yourdon.com/books/fallback/fallbackhome.html He is America's one of the world's senior programmers: two dozen books on the topic. I don't need your approval. I've got his. He is clearly using one of my direct-mail ad pieces on his Web page summary of why the Great Depression is coming. How do I know? I made an error that he reprints -- a kind of water mark. It was a minor error, but it was mine, all mine. Think of it, though: 250,000 pieces a month. Month after month. My version, not yours. Enjoy!
Never mind the bitterness, pride, hatred, and contempt he betrays in that short message. The point is, North is sending out 250,000 pieces a month. Multiply that by $129 a year, and you get THIRTY-TWO MILLION DOLLARS! Okay, maybe as an author and not a publisher, he's just getting 15% of that. But that's still $4.8 million. Per year, folks. Okay, let's assume he's only making one-tenth that amount. That's still $480,000 a year. I don't know about you, but that's a hell of a lot more than I make. So please don't tell me he doesn't have a vested interest in Y2K. (And this is just the newsletter I know about. I've heard he has others, plus books, pamphlets, etc.)
This guy is cashing in big-time, and he's doing it on the backs of the people he claims he's trying to help. And guess what? When Y2K blows over, and everything's still intact, that newsletter will still be around. Sure, he'll lose some subscribers, but he'll find another cause to scare people with. Maybe it'll be "The Coming Crisis in Human Cloning: How It's Going To Destroy Our Economy". Or maybe he'll hop on board the "Russia is going to nuke the US" conspiracy theory.
A Dangerous Man
My contention is that Gary North is not only a religious super-zealot who is using Y2K to stuff his own pockets, but that he is, like most religious zealots, a dangerous man. And I have to admit this whole thing really shocks me, because only a few weeks ago I pictured him as a studious economics professor who runs an honest web site without any advertising, trying to warn people about something he recently discovered. That's the image he wants us to believe. He's said over and over again, that he's just trying to save lives. But here are his own words explaining why his web site exists:
"When I began writing about Y2K, hardly anyone had heard of it. Today, the media cover it sporadically. In a year, there will be a tidal wave of articles. And, month by month, fear will spread. Doom and gloom will sell, as it has never sold before. I have positioned my name, my site, and Christian Reconstruction in the center of this fear. All I have to do now is to report bad news. That's just about all the Y2K news there is. One by one, the media sources will move in my direction, for two reasons: (1) it's as bad as I say it is; (2) the public will begin to panic, and then there will be a feverish demand for more and more information. The "moderates" -- whose position cannot square with the facts of Y2K -- will be drowned out in a wave of panic. My site will be in the middle of it. The larger the site gets, the more formidable it becomes. The site scares away those critics with a large audience, which Rev. Abshire does not enjoy. When a network TV crew came to Fayetteville to interview me last month, it was my Web site that had hooked them. The site is now irresistible to any reporter who has been assigned the task of writing on Y2K. I have done their homework for them. I have assembled the documentation. They all have deadlines, and my site helps them to meet it. I have built it; they will come."
"Before every link, I add my comments, my "spin." They don't have to believe it, but as fear spreads to the reporters about their careers and their pensions, my spin will spread."
So now we know why the site exists. He wants to spread the word about Christian Reconstructionism. Not a bad thing in itself, until you dig a little deeper and get closer to the roots of North's beliefs. In this quote he talks about religious freedom, which is the entire basis for the existence of this country. His words are shocking and horrifying to me, and, I think, to any US citizen.
So let us be blunt: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberties of the enemies of God.
--Gary North, quoted in Albert J. Menendez, Visions of Reality: What Fundamentalist Schools Teach (Prometheus Books, 1993)
North wants to gain power for the Christian Reconstructionists, then wipe out the liberties of anyone else who disagrees with their beliefs. This is one scary dude, and I shudder to think where, or in whom, he's investing his substantial monies. He's a man with a plan, and if the reconstruction goes his way, it's going to be worse for 95% of us than all the fan-hitting manure he's predicting for Y2K.
But thankfully, he's not the point man for the Christian Reconstructionists. There are plenty of CR's who don't like him. For instance, Rev. Abshire:
...we do NOT have to become false prophets. And that is the real danger. No man KNOWS the future, for "the secret things belong to God." If we say THIS will happen, and it does not, then we have become a false prophet. If people like Gary North who are scaring people into quitting their jobs, leaving their livelihoods and moving to the hills prove to be wrong on this one, let's hope they have a little integrity, repent of their sins and get out of the economic forecasting business for good.
Here's another commentary, this one from a free Christian newsletter...
A lot of folks have been asking us what we think about Gary North's current crusade to make everyone aware of the looming Y2K problem. For a brief summary of what that problem is, see the Eschaton column, this issue.
But North is not interested in just making people aware -- he wants us all to get hunkered down and ready. His vision for the next few years, starting in the latter half of 1999 is downright apocalyptic. At the same time, he sees himself as the lone voice in the wilderness. As he put it in a recent newsletter, "Christian leaders are now answering me in the traditional, time-tested way: by murmuring. They do not publish line-by-line criticisms of what I have written."
As with so many issues, it is not that simple. This is not the first time North has projected a very specific apocalyptic vision of the future. If someone had undertaken to refute his predictions about how AIDS would bring down the system, that effort would have been rendered obsolete and unnecessary when simple time refuted him. That dire prediction did not come to pass. And his "ten feet to survival" left a number of people, when all was said and done, with a hole in the ground.
In a strange sort of way, many hard money conservatives have an emotional need for a kind of secular dispensationalism. "The end of fractional reserve banking is nigh," quoth he. Hard money conservatives have been catching the last train out for as long as I can remember, and I suspect they were doing it before that when I was still in short pants.
That such predictions appeal to an emotional need, and not an intellectual one, can be seen by the response when the prediction does not come true. Hal Lindsey's terminal generation came and went, but he is still here making money. And hard money analysts continue to predict the terminal stock market crash. But when it doesn't happen, the folks who subscribe to their newsletters . . . forgive and forget.
However, just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Y2K problem does represent a significant problem. And it is also clear that huge problems could be created if enough people come to think Y2K is a problem even if it isn't a catastrophic programming problem.
This is one place where hard money end-of-the-agers differ from dispensational end-of-the-worlders. If someone believes dispensational predictions about the latest antichrist and rapture schedules, that belief leaves him unprepared for the world in which he must live when the Second Coming fails to make an appearance. Again.
But if someone really believes all that North is saying, then he is going to pay down his debts, buy a nice place in the country, and so forth. And if it all doesn't happen? He has a nice view and no debts.
Still, North ought to do more to prove he really believes what he is saying. He does believe his own predictions enough to relocate and restructure everything he is doing now. But here is a question. Does he believe his analysis enough to promise to go out of the economic forecasting business if the calendar over the next few years proves him wrong?
--Douglas Wilson, Credenda Agenda, Vol 10, No. 1.
I can't finish this section without an amazing excerpt from an article I found on the web about Christian Reconstructionism. Read section (b) and shudder:
Who are the "Players" in Christian Reconstructionism?:
(a) Dr. Rousas J. Rushdoony is considered the patriarch of CRM. (Cornelius Van Til, a Princeton University theologian, is credited as being the "father of Reconstructionism," even though Van Til himself never became a Reconstructionist.) Rushdoony is a prolific writer of books and the founder (in 1965) of the Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, California (a think tank organization named after the Council of Chalcedon, held in A.D. 451). This organization publishes Chalcedon and The Journal of Christian Reconstruction. Rushdoony's two-volume Institutes of Biblical Law is an extensive study (800 pages) of how the Ten Commandments could be applied to modern society; it is the "Bible" of Reconstructionist philosophy. Rushdoony, in a 3/88 letter said: "[Our objective is] nothing less than the re-Christianizing of America." Rushdoony also believes as many as twenty million charismatics worldwide are now part of the Reconstruction movement (even though he is not as fond of charismatics as is Gary North). Reconstructionists would deny that they believe or teach salvation by works. Yet their spiritual father, Rushdoony, believes a Christian has denied God if he does not actively work to transform society: "A godly law order will work to disinherit, execute, and supplant the ungodly and to confirm the godly in their inheritance. For Christians to work for anything less is to deny God." [If the latter statement were true, all the Apostles, and Jesus Himself, would have to be counted as denying God!!]
(b) Gary North is the son-in-law of Rushdoony, and the founder of the Institute for Christian Economics (in Tyler, Texas) and Dominion Press, and is one of the most militant Reconstructionists. (Rushdoony and North have not spoken to each other for years--Rushdoony looks at North as a heretic, because North teaches that the menstrual blood of a virgin bride is a type of Jesus' blood shed on the cross. North also broke with Rushdoony over the issue of "Christian America"--North holding that Article VI of the Constitution is proof of the establishment of a non-religious republic.) He publishes a number of "gloom & doom" investment newsletters, all of which are long on verbosity and short on useful investment advice. With an earned doctorate in economics, North would seem to be an unlikely candidate as the single most influential spokesman for a modern socio-theological movement. Nevertheless, through his enormous and diverse literary output (via Spurgeon Press, Geneva Ministries, Dominion Press, Institute for Christian Economics, and Reconstruction Press) he has become the primary shaker-and-mover of the Christian Reconstruction position today. Like his father-in-law and mentor, Rousas Rushdoony, North's forte is rhetoric, not exegesis. Consequently, his approach is characterized more by logical/theological arguments occasionally punctuated with Scripture than by hard reasoning derived from careful exegetical analysis of Scripture. (According to North, women who have abortions should be publicly executed, "along with those who advised them to abort their children." As the means of execution, North prefers stoning because, among other things, stones are cheap, plentiful, and convenient.) North claims that "the ideas of the Reconstructionists have penetrated into Protestant circles that for the most part are unaware of the original source of the theological ideas that are beginning to transform them." North describes the "three major legs of the Reconstructionist movement" as "the Presbyterian oriented educators, the Baptist school headmasters and pastors, and the charismatic telecommunications system."
--Biblical Discernment Ministries
So What About Y2K?
As the saying goes, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. In my opinion, yes, Virginia, there is a Y2K problem. But is it as bad as North claims? His opinions and prophecies are grossly exaggerated because he has absolutely no objective perspective on this issue. He's not looking at Y2K and extrapolating an honest account of what might happen: he's calling for the worst, the absolute worst, to happen. And that's based on his pre-existing prejudices and opinions, not on any scientific fact.
Now the first thing he'd say here is that it can't be predicted in a scientific manner, so you must prepare for the absolute worst. I agree that the state of computers and embedded chips around the world on 1/1/2000 probably can't be predicted a year and a half in advance any more than the weather on 1/1/2000 can be. But that doesn't mean we need to prepare for the absolute worst. Here is an interesting post on the year2000-discuss list last year...
Date: Fri, 26 Sep 1997 18:29:55 -0400
From: Dick Mills
Subject: Awareness: Where to draw the line on alarmism.
I believe I may have found a practical definition for where to draw the line between awareness and alarmism. Here it is. I'm posting it here for everyone to shoot barbs at. Is this a definition we can use, or not?
Let's use a simple analogy familiar to everyone; airline safety. There are two standards by which we should view technical questions of safety; the planning view and the operational view.
The great engineer, Edward A. Murphy formulated his famous law, with airplane safety in mind. "If anything can fail, it will." When designers are designing airplanes, or when software types are enumerating what Y2K problems must be checked, this is the proper standard to apply. Assume the worst, check everything. Think about it; no other standard is defensible for planning purposes.
When we're about to board an airplane, we use the operational standard. Sure the wings could fall off, there could be a bomb on board, the pilots might be drunk, but the proper standard to apply is to ignore all these possibilities and be optimistic. Think about it; no sane person should board any airplane ever if he does not expect the outcome to be favorable. For that matter, the person would not dare use any other transportation or dare to stay on the ground. Panophobia is the word for that; fear of everything.
In other words, planning and design should be based on worst case possible outcomes, but daily operations should be based on expected real life outcomes.
What would be irresponsible? Well, to go to the airport ticket office and loudly discuss the wing falling off, bombs on board, drunken pilots, then to jump to describing the broken body parts and anguished relatives that might be the consequence would be irresponsible. The psychological trick being played is to jump directly from a discussion of what can happen, directly to the fearfully graphics views of the consequences. It is a trick because the planning standard is misapplied to the operational context. Indeed, in airports this kind of talk is actually criminal. It is so bad that it is one of the very few legal exceptions to freedom of speech.
Now, lets translate this back to the Y2K context. Many articles, public statements, books, and web sites discussing the Y2K problem commit exactly this sin. They first make the point that Y2K vulnerability is ubiquitous. Nearly everything and anything can fail because of Y2K. They then jump directly to point out how awful the consequences could be if all these critical things did fail. To the uninitiated, the message is that what can fail will fail; the wrong expectation.
The sin may not even be deliberate. We software practitioners are busy avoiding and rectifying the problem. We are immersed in the planning standard all day every work day. It is understandable that we may forget to use a different standard when making public statements. Understandable at least, until you read this post and have been informed.
So what's so bad about this? We lose credibility and risk being ignored because we use alarmist tactics. If we really believe that the public awareness and action is critical to achieve, then we must protect our credibility.
I believe that everyone should look at their own financial situation and try to figure out what they're comfortable doing to prepare for Y2K. Since no one really knows what's going to happen, it's impossible to get really good advice about how much preparing you should do. And no amount of preparation is going to make any of us feel absolutely comfortable -- unless you're rich and can set up a protected compound with five years' of clean food and water, a couple of windmills, a half-acre of solar panels, and so on.
At a minimum, at least try to make sure you have enough food, water, and heat for a month or two. If you can set up an alternate source of electricity, more "power" to you. If you live in a potentially dangerous area like a city, and you feel you should get a gun, then do it, but by all means be responsible and learn how to use it.
Keep an eye out for articles and news stories about Y2K. I would avoid Gary North's web site after 1/1/1999, though, because he colors all the articles with his own spin, which is fine, but he'll also end up omitting critical articles of success stories, because he has a lot riding on Y2K's perceived failure. He tends to ridicule and belittle any success story, or any dissenting opinion, no matter how well documented it might be. A company can set its clocks forward a dozen times and have no problems, but North will come up with a dozen reasons why they'll still fail. You cannot win with a zealot like him, so it's best just to avoid him.
Wrapping It Up
There is a whole lot more to say about Gary North and Y2K. I haven't even mentioned Ed Yourdon, another doom-and-gloomer closely linked to North. Maybe I'll expand on it later on, but for now this will have to be it. Thanks for reading it, and please feel free to send me your comments.
In my research, I found the following to be very helpful: