Screwers & Screwees: How things REALLY work

I’ve been reading the marvellous John W. Gofman book Irrevy: An Irreverent, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power (published in 1979 by the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility).

John W. Gofman (September 21, 1918 - August 15, 2007) was an American scientist and advocate. He was Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology at University of California at Berkeley. Some of his early work was on the Manhattan Project” (this snippet from Wikipedia). Later on, Gofman did tons of good stuff, including turning totally away from nuclear energy & advocating passionately against it.

Fascinating book! Illuminating, clever, witty – a must-read for many reasons! (It’s probably “out of print” now, but I’ve managed to get my local small bookseller dude to get me 3 copies for a very reasonable price. Amazing what local small bookseller folks can do for you!!)

The book’s Chapter 4 is called “The Catch-22 Society: Some Thoughts on ‘Civil Disobedience’ and ‘Uncivil Obedience.’”

He starts it off with the wonderful (former slave) Frederick Douglass quotation from August 1857:

“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical. But it must be a struggle.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Frederick Douglass


Gofman then goes on to paraphrase Douglass:

“There are two fundamental groups in society, the screwers and the screwees. The screwers have all the apparatus of power, the sycophantic henchmen who do their bidding, and they have unflinching devotion to the preservation of their privileges at the expense of the screwees. Further, the screwers have enormous difficulty understanding why the screwees should ever raise any questions about the super-wonderful system which they have in place.

Generally speaking, screwees have never particularly enjoyed being overtly known as such. Therefore, a subterfuge is essential. The subterfuge which has emerged is the myth that the screwees are the ones who are really running the show, and that they do so through a democratic government. The ostensible purpose of government is to protect the rights and security of its citizens. This is done through a system of laws, drafted by hordes of those individuals we call lawyers, such laws being written as to defy comprehension by virtually anyone, but never written so as to be neutral in any conflict between the screwers and the screwees.

There is not necessarily any desire to be evil on the part of the screwers. All they want is an absolute guarantee that they can preserve and extend their privilege at the expense of the screwees. Stated otherwise, they wish to acquire an ever-increasing share of all the means of production and resources of the Earth, so that they can still further increase that share. And to these ends, we have the so-called “economy,” which through ceaseless churning, steadily allows those with power and privilege to increase both. Thus the top 19% of families owns about 76% of all the privately held wealth in the USA, while the bottom 25% has no assets at all (Dr. L.C. Thurow, M.I.T. Department of Economics). The concentration of wealth and power is such that recent estimates are that the top 5% of the American population owns more assets than does the bottom 81% combined (also Thurow).

What is manufactured in this “economy” is really quite irrelevant to the screwer-class. The only criterion is that what is manufactured be saleable at a profit. Hula hoops, arms, oil, cars, cigarettes, nuclear power plants, food, all are viewed through only one lens – can they be sold at a profit. Better still are those products which, through built-in obsolescence, can insure that the purchaser becomes locked into the system of dependence. Best of all are those products which become absolute necessities in the contemporary way of life, and which cannot possibly be made by the screwee himself. Thus, for example, nuclear power plants to create electricity are lovely, whereas small solar systems are a disaster – from the point of view of the screwers.” – John W. Gofman, in Irrevy: An Irreverent, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power.

Sobering take on things, hmmm?

For sure, it sounds 100% bang on to me.

Gofman is brilliant, funny, &, as the book title suggests, very irreverent.

Here’s what he says about when we finally “get” that we are screwees, & what we can do about it:

“But let someone raise the issue that pollution of the environment, poisoning of people, poisoning of other life forms, should be prevented and that the responsibility for such prevention be borne by the screwers, and all hell breaks loose. Or if someone suggests that a particular profitable activity should ever cease entirely because it cannot be made safe, we are in for a battle royal. They tell you that Kepone and dioxin put bread on your table.

Ostensibly, those who are concerned have a marvelous recourse – namely the government of, for, and by the people, which will (of course) be ever watchful of the interests of the people. The Congress will pass the laws necessary, the Executive Branch will set up administrative agencies to flesh out the programs and regulatory agencies to insure that the public is protected from depradations. If the laws don’t seem to be achieving the goals dreamed of by the screwees, they can turn Tweedle-dum out of office and elect Tweedle-dee. When Tweedle-dee turns out to be a carbon copy of Tweedle-dum, then there is always the privilege of electing Tweedle-dum’s cloned brother.” (John W. Gofman in Irrevy: An Irreverent, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power, on page 116).(1)

This made me laugh out loud. So did what he said (on page 126) about the coconut heads at the Atomic Energy Commission (to do with the so-called “safety” of eating coconuts from Bikini Island, where nuclear testing had taken place. Seems like the coconut heads are all over the place!! We have our fair share here in Canada too, for sure!)

Well, I could go on & on here, extolling the virtues of this wonderful book, & odds are good I’ll talk about it some more, maybe soon.

But for now, just mostly wanted to pass on the screwers & screwee description.

We might as well have a realistic grasp on how things work on Planet Earth, don’t you think?

I’m not saying it’s nice, or fun – for sure, it’s … bracing


P.S. John Gofman curriculum vitae here. Interview w. Gofman here

P.P.S. The book is chockfull of brilliant cartoons, btw. Lots of good laughs! Some more quotes here

P.P.P.S. Some of my own Tweedle wisdom here

P.S. # 4: Watch Canadian politician Tommy Douglas on YouTube, talking about "Mouseland." Same message as the Tweedledum & Tweedledee. Must-see!

‘Quote of the daywith this post: “No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make “safe” and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages. To do such a thing is a transgression against life itself, a transgression infinitely more serious than any crime ever perpetrated by man. The idea that a civilisation could sustain itself on the basis of such a transgression is an ethical, spiritual, and metaphysical monstrosity. It means conducting the economic affairs of man as if people really did not matter at all.” – E.F. Schumacher, 1911-1977

** Lots of other great nuke-related quotes here

(1) Of particular interest to fellow Ontarians as we contemplate replacing one of our Tweedle-dums with a Tweedle-dee, hmmm? Only two political parties in Ontario are anti-nuclear: Greens & NDP. If we vote Liberal or Conservative, we are voting for more Tweedles … & more nukes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!