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The "Pocket Aces" Paradox
Dodging bullets on 5GW battlefields.
I’m no card player. I’m no statistician either, or anything else related to the fields of probability or risk analysis. But something I heard the other day made me think about the concept of being dealt a pair of pocket aces — a.k.a. “the bullets.”
That’s never happened to me at a casino table. I’ve only visited those on rare occasions anyway, and that certainly would have been a memorable hand of cards. But it has happened to me at least once in a friendly, low-stakes game, of that kind where everyone gets pretty knackered, but nobody goes home dead broke.
Again, I don’t know all the math involved, apart from the base odds of being dealt a pair of any kind (5.88%). And serious poker players aren’t just calculating the odds of a single deal. They play deals, plural, which they use to refine their raising tactics and long-term betting strategies. And even then, there’s always this to consider:
But I’m just talking about a single deal and pot. That magical moment you peek your cards and see those bullets peeking back at you.
The goal here is go blank, frozen, dead. To become a robot made of ice and marble. That’s my goal in every deal, whether it’s face-up to the table or to your hole. Perhaps better and more experienced players pursue different strategies, employing subtle psychological techniques like broadcasting fake “tells” and teasing out clues. For me, it’s just doing my best impersonation of Bernie Lomax.
That’s a harder act to pull off when you hold the bullets, though, because you know several things to be simultaneously true:
You’ve just been dealt the strongest possible starting cards in poker.
If you misplay these cards, you’ll feel like a total buffoon.
Almost anything that happens next can turn them into trash.
In fact, even the flop can convert your bullets into blanks. A pair showing gets you to a strong two-pair, but could just as easily land some other lucky sonofabitch three-of-a-kind.
So your instinct is to play fast. But not too fast, because you still need a dance partner, right? Do you raise like you would when holding any other pair? Should you check the flop to gain intel on other hands, or try to push the pot as high as possible on every street?
What I’m getting at is that when we’re dealt what appears to be a stroke of good luck, a kind of analysis-paralysis can set in. One voice whispers that the Fates have handed you a rare opportunity, and you therefore shouldn’t squander it. Another voice flatly reminds you of all the unknown information, the reveal of which can turn this so-called gift into a sunk-costs trap that cleans you out. It’s the crystalized present arguing with the hazy future, and you’re stuck in the middle of their debate.
Life reflects this debate in many ways. The unknowns of the future vastly outnumber the knowledge we actually possess, which is mainly about our past experiences and direct sensory inputs. From a certain angle, you can say this is the only kind of information we can truly be certain of in any given moment (and even attaining such a state of self-awareness can be a tricky and/or grueling process). For everything else, we have models that we either build ourselves or buy off the shelf (e.g. a book, a class, a teacher). We then use these models to test and refine our theories about the foggy terrain we call “reality.”
Judging how to best move forward through a fog is partly a matter of probing for shapes, and drawing a map from what our fingers find. As long as we can differentiate between the map and the territory, we could make a lot of progress (while avoiding major pitfalls). But I think it’s also a matter of maintaining a sense of humility about our actual knowledge and capabilities. This is especially the case with pocket aces. Whether we’re born with some inherent advantage or one suddenly lands in our laps, we’re going to feel a strong urge to overplay our hands, and wander into terrible danger as a result.
That this overconfidence can lead to total ruin should be obvious, but we often blindly forge ahead anyway. I think that’s because each form of sin includes a poison pill or ticking timebomb at its core. For greed, I think it can maybe be described as something like the conflation of current advantages with future ones. You will eventually overplay your hand, because you overestimate your power to control outcomes and because the pot can never be large enough to satisfy you. When you get greedy, the information you gather about a given situation can easily be misread, so long as the misreading serves your thirst to obtain maximum results.
We could say, “What’s true in poker is true in life.” But life also isn’t like a game of poker, because there are other methods of drawing the map than just blindly probing for intel. These methods have been known for a very long time, but the meta-muscles required to employ them have atrophied thanks to postmodernism and its many toxic offspring.
When employing such methods, the “gift” of pocket aces can be studied from a higher vantage point, where it may not resemble an advantage at all, but rather a devious trap being set for you, by evil people who are secretly playing a different kind of game.
During the pandemic, the whole of the evil enterprise cloaked itself in the language of science, safety and even the milk of human kindness, all of which was sold with the rock solid certainty of death-and-taxes. As a consequence, large majorities of people couldn’t see through this disguise (and of those, many still can’t).
For the most part, people like my wife and I were playing with the same starting information as everyone else — which is to say, basically nothing apart from the blind bets that others were making. This was particularly the case early on, when even we entertained notions of some massively deadly Captain Trips-style plague having been unleashed.
When betting those blinds, some tells were obvious to us as early as March (e.g. the absurd cover story of zoonosis in a wet market, even though a BSL-4 lab conducting gain-of-function research on coronaviruses stood within spitting distance of the outbreak). Still, we understood there could have been many reasons for the various lies and idiocies being spread around, most of them related to domestic politics.
In that light, the operation could be seen as one final bureaucratic putsch to run Trump off the table. He was the monster into whom the Deep State emptied every single bullet in the gun, and then threw the gun. The daily drumbeat of media coverage bore this theory out, as every statement and move that Trump made was painted in the most hideously florid of colors. He was the Man Who Could Do No Right, and was finally bringing forth the apocalypse as his enemies promised.
The other intel we gathered from the blinds was that the media was being used as a paranoia engine. They were driving people into a blind, destructive panic, ginned up day and night by TV talking heads and social media crows. At the same time, increasingly insane, unscientific compliance rules about masks, lockdowns and “social distancing” were trundled out.
The people who unquestioningly followed and promoted these rituals seemed to have been literally scared out of their minds (though I suspect another partial explanation exists, at least for some of them). But they were also being led down a primrose path to self-destruction. They’d been tricked into thinking that the game had been suddenly rigged in their favor, and what would emerge on the other side of the pandemic would be a total political, moral and economic victory over their hated foes, most of whom they thought (or even openly wished, even prayed) would soon be dead.
As a thought experiment, I will play the game from their perspective. Then I’ll propose a different way of looking at both the game itself and the venue in which it’s played.
The Casino of Trust
The game that’s plainly visible to all resembles a typical game of Texas Hold ‘Em in most respects. featuring seven players plus a permanent house dealer. Both the players and the dealer are strangers to you, but you’ve been assured all your life that this house is trustworthy, and the games played there are mostly, if not all, above board.
The dealer is a masked and robed figure. He or she is anonymous to the point of invisibility, which you are told (without further explanation) is a critical safeguard, meant to protect the integrity of the game itself. When the deck is produced, you’re informed it has been personally inspected and approved by the Inspector General of Cards, which everyone else at the table agrees is the gold standard.
Before the first round commences, you get to know a little bit about these other players. They all appear to be high-rollers, hailing from different backgrounds and disciplines.
First is an energy tycoon, with vested interests in production, refinement and distribution that spans the globe.
Second is a military man, with a chest full of medals and his fingerprints on many lucrative private and public contracts.
Third is a international drug kingpin, who isn’t a doctor but plays one on TV.
Fourth is a media guru, who controls what is and isn’t transmitted across a screen.
Fifth is a financial wizard, who steers the flow and valuation of assets and debt.
Your sixth and final opponent, the last to be seated, is a politician. How he came upon his wealth is a bit sketchy, as he tends to answer most questions about it with a wink and a grin.
Something all these players have in common is that their starting chips for the evening reflect only a tiny fraction of their holdings. You, on the other hand, must put up absolutely everything in order to buy-in to this game. Your chips represent not only your money and material assets, but the health and well-being of yourself and your loved ones, all of your rights and freedoms, and even intangibles such as self-image, social status and other psychological and spiritual needs. In other words, they represent the sum total of everything you value in life, including your life itself.
The Trump Rounds
As the game commences, even the blind bets are oddly aggressive, and you sense a palpable antagonism towards the politician from the other players. You feel that too, and have felt it ever since he was seated at the table. You can’t quite explain why to others who approved of his seat, because your image of him is utterly bewildering. He comes off like a Janus-faced demon or rabbit-duck illusion: you’re convinced he’s somehow both an incompetent boob and a diabolical genius, and consequently it hurts to even look at him for long.
Even more infuriating is his style of play. The politician was supposedly a novice at cards, ripe for the picking. Yet every time someone calls his bluff, he turns out to be holding the winning hand. In fact, not only does he win the vast majority of these opening rounds, but he lures his opponents into ever deeper waters and juicier pots along the way.
You also lose many hands when you try to outplay him. Mysteriously, you also win a few, even when you know you’re holding mediocre cards at best. But that doesn’t make you any less angry at this smiling jackass, or any less suspicious whenever he wins. And besides, your stacks are gradually shortening over time, despite those occasional windfalls. What you fail to see is your own tactical mistakes, in choosing which kinds of stakes to bet and when.
During these rounds, you notice many of the other players whispering to each other, and stealing accusatory looks at the politician. When their cheating allegations reach the ears of the media guru, he gleefully retails them aloud.
You cheered on this growing list of accusations, and perhaps even added a few of your own. Maybe you were genuinely convinced the politician could only win by cheating. Or maybe you accused him disingenuously, because you just hated to see him win. In either case, you recognized what you were seeing to be a power struggle, and sensed the only way for you to win was to join the chorus.
At a certain point in the night, the allegations have become so numerous and byzantine that you couldn’t even properly recall a single one of them when asked. Yet each and every one turns out to be a dud. Even when the politician has been stripped fully nude and put under intense scrutiny by the casino’s security guards, the politician keeps winning hand after hand (and grinning his infuriating grin).
As the game plays on, you watch your chips stacks rise and fall. But over time, the clear trend is towards the latter. While you may have made some material gains along the way, these seem like nothing compared to your psychological losses, inflicted by the politician in the form of crass jabs, nasty jokes and just general assholery. When it comes to your deeper, largely unspoken needs for moral certitude and social status, it feels like you just can’t catch a lucky break, and are considering exiting the game before you lose it all.
Suddenly, a different kind of game begins.
And this one is downright terrifying.
The COVID Rounds
A new deck arrives, fresh from the desk of the Inspector General of Cards. As it’s being shuffled, you notice some sly winking and coded hand gestures going around the table. The other players seem to hate the politician at least as much as you do, and you get the feeling they’re are hatching some ingenious plot to get rid of him.
You sense this next game will be your best opportunity to either catch the politician cheating or clean him out. That the others plan to cheat to make this happen doesn’t trouble you in the least. After all, rules are only good if they lead to good results, right?
Everyone else bets big in the blinds. This is particularly the case with the drug lord and the media guru. Chicken Little has nothing on these motherfuckers, who swear that the sky isn’t only falling, but also simultaneously burning and exploding. They terrorize the table by raising indiscriminately, even with zero “known” information to draw upon.
Each time the bet comes back to you, you assess the diminished state of your chips. You feel like you’ve already lost so much, and now the losses aren’t only psychological and spiritual. Businesses are closing, your kids are barred from school, your job is hanging by a thread, and paranoid terror looms everywhere. You can’t even work out in a gym, or seek solace in a church. You’ve come to feel like a prisoner in your own home. But the bet keeps being raised, and you’re asked to commit even more.
The other players keep winking and nodding at you like you’re “part of the team” now, but you still hesitate. You’re worried the politician will somehow turn the tables yet again, just like he’s been doing all night long.
The financial wiz detects your apprehension, and offers you a loan at what seems to be a very cheap rate. The rest of the players help sell you on it, and even offer loans of their own. “Your luck’s gotta change some time, kid,” they say.
Maybe you’ve had one too many drinks, but this suddenly sounds very logical to you. After all, you’ve been spooked out of many a hand lately while holding above-average cards. A little breathing room to take some risks might be just what the doctor ordered. And besides, you’ve seen such loans issued to the other players when they were in similar positions, and it seemed to always work out well for them. It never occurs to you why this might be.
I mentioned that your chips at the table represented everything you value in life, including your identity, tranquility, self image and sense of self-worth. During the Trump rounds, many material gains were obviously made across the board, in the form of higher real wages, bigger returns on investments, cheaper energy prices and more. But I suspect that psychological losses went underwater for many Western progressives during this period.
As a result, many of you became convinced we were already living in a dystopia, which is why you were so easily roped in by illusions like “Russiagate” or the Zelenskyy phone call. Every time that other shoe refused to drop, your psychological stacks got shorter. But now you sensed a big turnaround on the horizon. People were dying in droves, after all. And if these deaths could somehow be pinned on Trump, perhaps he could finally be blown off the table (and out of the rent-free space in your head).
With the pharmaceutical contractors seemingly agreeing to withhold news of their “miracle cure” until after the election, the stage was set to pull off a different kind of miracle. An elderly mediocrity would ascend to the presidency, after the strangest election of our lifetimes. This barely sentient man barely campaigned, and when he did, it was only via short, lame video statements that looked like they were shot in a basement.
As for the election itself, gone were the old, benighted days of in-person voting and direct observers. You were explicitly and incessantly told that this was the most secure way to do an election, and that any concerns to the contrary were crazy, unjustified and/or sour grapes. Furthermore, you were told that questioning the results of an election was now the most un-American and anti-democratic thing that one could possibly do, even though that’s precisely what you’d been doing for almost four years up until that point.
But when the “bad” politician is kicked out of the game, and the “good” one takes his place, you still have the same problems as before. You’re still a prisoner of the virus. Everything is still an emergency. You still can’t go back to “normal,” and have been rendered weaker and more fearful than you’ve ever felt before. Your remaining supply of chips is dismally low.
But the other players are still smiling and winking at you.
So, after some hesitation, you accept all loans and sign all receipts.
One hand later, you peek your cards:
A pair of aces.
In short order, the entire character of the conversation around the “Trump vaccines” flipped in a heartbeat. Those who were insisting they were poison apples from a poison tree were now hailing them as a tonic for the ages. Now these same voices promised that these novel injections were safer than Flintstones vitamins, and more effective than the smallpox, polio and rubella vaccines combined. Other considerations were summarily obliterated by the bureaucratic puppets in doctor costumes who run the WHO, the CDC, the NIH, the FDA and other components of the captured public health apparatus.
Just like the hypocrisy of questioning election results, you probably didn’t notice this 180° flip, or how the new cards were being dealt from the bottom of the deck. You just nodded along, because you understood the nature of the world now. You knew it really was a game of “Us vs. Them” and with the arrival of the aces you found yourself playing for the winning team. You were on the side of science, reason, kindness, courage, justice and light. We were on the side of ignorance, selfishness, superstition, cowardice and the all consuming darkness of a thousand -isms and -phobias.
Moreover, you knew it would be a slaughter, because there were so many more of you than there were of us. This size discrepancy should have been your biggest hint about the hidden nature of the deal. It wasn’t. Instead, it was all the evidence you needed to play fast and hard, and to go all in. A couple of pricks, then it would be smooth sailing into the jackpots of the future.
Not only were they going to keep you physically safe and make you psychologically whole, they’d also provide you with the ultimate material advantage over loathsome trash like me. While you would get back to work, attend concerts, dine at restaurants, sun yourself on beaches, fly on planes, and generally live your fullest possible life, I and my ilk would go on being punished for our impunity in the shadows, if not dropping dead from the dreaded Doom Flu.
Which would serve them right, you thought.
Or a great many of you did, because you said so.
Are you feeling lucky yet?
To be fair to the rest of you, the fog of war was almost impenetrable during the COVID blinds, and so making mistakes in those early rounds was something all of us did. But the particular reasons you threw in with this rogue’s gallery of liars and cheats is something I cannot know, beyond the general spell of misery and hopelessness that has befallen us over the past twenty-odd years.
But those who are capable of seeing through the fog must do so, ASAP. Because the next game on the table has stakes beyond anything we’ve witnessed before. Because the next game is called World War Three.
But considering that nearly every bit of information available about this game is a lie, how can we determine how to move, and what to trust?
To see through the shadows and fog, we need to consider why they exist in the first place, and who or what might have placed them there. To some degree this means listening to your gut instincts, which have been designed for that very purpose. To listen, you must first cultivate a quiet space within you, and build inside of it a model of a moral universe composed of intelligible order. Think of it as an alternate dimension of sorts, where all chaos and darkness has been purged from the world, and what remains is beauty and truth.
Whenever in doubt about something important, compare what you are seeing in the Actual World. For example, what would a moral, sane and intelligent version of Anthony Fauci have said and done in the model universe? Would this person lie to everyone on Earth about something critically important?
And if he later confessed to the lie while claiming he told it to protect us, what would his next action be? Suppose that actually was his real motivation, that it was a “noble lie” instead of one told to help disguise a crime. Would Model Fauci go on issuing orders and making important claims, which by his own admission we cannot trust? Or would he apologetically resign, and throw himself on the mercy of the courts?
When the distance between the model and the actual is sufficiently wide, you will quickly figure out who and what to trust (or distrust). With enough practice, you can use this method to narrowly evaluate individual claims, and scale it up in a jiffy to assess a bigger picture.
Some of its elements are largely plug-and-play, while others require a bit of refinement and custom design. I will say that it requires a belief in a higher reality, which allows all subjects within the model universe to potentially gain a form in the material world. The actual world will not be entirely moral and intelligibly ordered all at once, but portions of it can be, and sometimes to a very high degree. That is to say, they can be true, or at least true-enough to use as guideposts.
When you make these measurements of distance (between Model Fauci and Actual Fauci, Model Biden and Actual Biden, etc) you’re simultaneously reminding yourself how you should act and speak, in order to become closer to a Model You. This process has a self-reinforcing quality, because as the distance closes between Actual You and Model You, so will your ability to read and describe the real territory and its pitfalls, and to draw better maps of it for others.
This is especially important when you are dealt “the bullets” — some seemingly perfect advantage/solution that fell into your lap when you were at your weakest, and when you thought you needed it most. This kind of gift-horse must always be looked in the mouth, because that mouth may be filled with venomous fangs.
It will happen again, and probably very soon. And you must be ready this time.
If we had to put the model universe in poker terms, it would be an unseen partner observing the game from outside of it, and noticing that the dealer is cheating cards into the hands to certain players and making other shifty moves. This partner measures the distance from the “Casino of Trust” to its Model version, then transmits the information to you via earpiece, or furtive baseball signals delivered from the corner of the room.
In such situations, the mystery of pocket aces becomes a much simpler one to untangle:
And leave that crooked game behind you forever.
P.S. If you found any of this valuable (and can spare any change), consider dropping a tip in the cup for ya boy. I’ll try to figure out something I can give you back. Thanks in advance.