I think my car is breaking down. It makes a terrific rattling noise when shifting from Park to Drive. Since my car is also my house, this brings me no small amount of anxiety. Replacing the transmission would cost as much as I paid for the whole van (ouch). But if I drive it somewhere pleasant and park it, well, I live there now. New house on the block.

How do I know it’s the transmission? I don’t, really. I’m not familiar with auto repair; my technical skills are in electronics and software mostly. But through a process of trial and error, checking the various fluids, following the weird sounds and watching graybeards on Youtude, I’ve narrowed the possibilites down significantly. If and when I show it to a proper mechanic, I’ll at least know what it isn’t. “It’s definitely not the wiper fluid, sir, I checked!”

I don’t know a lot of auto mechanics. The people I roll with have lots of skills: farmers, electricians, builders, philosophers. But few engineers or technicians. I’ve created a filter bubble in my life, one that keeps engine grease off my clothes. Filter bubbles are a known cognitive hack. They hide from us the wider perspective of humanity. That’s why I use
curated feeds of people and ideologies that I disagree with entirely. Know thine enemy to know thyself.

The universe, if it has any personality at all, is certainly ironic. I found this thread in my Twittre anti-bubble this week:


a twitter thread claiming that right-wing Morlocks will defeat leftist Eloi in a civil war due to their mechanical prowess



This reactionary shithead thinks that his ability to “build” a rifle is going to win the culture war. I can’t build a rifle. I can shoot a rifle, barely, but I still think “point and click” not “aim and fire”. But there is something interesting about this argument. Let’s go deeper.

@Jack0ffSpades built his own rifle. I didn’t interview him for this piece (because, gross) but I’m fine with imagining his garbage life and using him as my case study. All’s fair in culture war.

So what did he use to build it? I doubt he mined and smelted his own ore, tooled his own parts, or refined his own grease. He took a bag of standardized parts from the store and assembled them according to standard engineering principles. Those principles – ballistics, aerodynamics, the chemistry of gunpowder – were discovered by a bunch of sissy nerds. I mean, scientists.

This is reminiscent of the old macroeconomic cliche: there’s not one person on the planet who knows how to build a pencil from scratch . Wood, graphite, brass, he complex creations of humanity don’t belong to any one person.

The fallacy endorsed by the libertarian/prepper/gun-nut axis claims that a single Great Man should be able to control his own destiny by force of will, that enough ammo and food and cruelty will lead to certain victory over the degenerate forces of the Liberal Sheeple Conspiracy. They imagine a very specific end-times scenario that has never actually existed , and they believe they’re superior because they’ve prepared for it.

In reality, this is the 21C, and  “turning on a computer” is a very important skill. If all of your skills involve turning a wrench, you’re not going to fare well in normal times . You’re going to be an isolated cog in a dying machine, while the Eloi nerds communicate, globally, at lightspeed, about how to take away your pension.

leftist car mechanic meme

I do think, though, that there’s an important point to be made for understanding your tools. If you don’t know how the basics of car maintenance, a mechanic can gouge you for unnecessary repairs. If you don’t understand the economics of internet companies, a programmer can extract your personal data for profit. You should know why you’d want to use a pencil instead of a pen, even if you couldn’t build either one from scratch.

**If you don’t understand your tools, they’re not really


No one person can understand all the tools, of course. The most important tool to have at your disposal is the tool for understanding tools . A meta-tool, so to speak. If you can apply a simple process to become more familiar with a system, you can go as deep as you want to with any given tool.

In computer lingo this is called the Read-Search-Ask methodology .

Lifehacker writer Adam Dachis describes A Systematic Approach to Solving Just About Any Problem .

Where I’m from, we call this Doing Science To It .

Until next week, friends. I’m off to Do Science to My Damn Car.

Thanks for reading,


SCIOPS is a weekly newsletter about cognitive security. Feel free to forward it to anyone you think would like it, or share it on social whatevers. If you have thoughts, questions, or criticism, just respond to this email.

If you’re seeing this for the first time, make sure to sign up at tinyletter.com/sciops for more cyberpunk weirdness in your inbox every week.