Street Wisdom: Plumbing Kissinger
Every moment has the capacity to surprise and amaze, if we let it. The last thing I expected on a recent late afternoon walk was to get into a philosophical discussion with a stranger who quoted Kissinger to me while replacing a damaged water pipe inside a big hole roped off with yellow tape on the sidewalk This stranger was Nelson, a professional plumber working under contract to Baltimore City to connect a new copper water pipe from a house to the city water supply. Suddenly, Nelson and I became a two-person rescue team when we simultaneously screamed a loud warning at a young man about to walk into the hole on the sidewalk, eyes glued to his cell phone. He swerved, missed the hole, and continued on his way without speaking, still talking on his phone. Nelson looked at me and exclaimed, “Can you believe that guy,” shaking his head in disbelief. I shook my head in agreement, and we “high fived” our successful warning. We exchanged first names and I asked Nelson if he was replacing lead pipe like the situation in Flint Michigan. “No,” he said, “just replacing an old stainless steel pipe that was damaged.
He continued, “you know the government was to blame for Flint because those government people are lazy and would rather do nothin’ than somethin’.” I told Nelson I was a writer with a studio down the street, and asked if I could quote him and take his picture for my Baltimore Rhythms blog; with a big smile, he said, “Sure.”
Without prompting, Nelson began to vent his frustration about the “changing world.” He said, “There are secret plans to create a new world order by the ‘elites’ that would leave behind the hard working people like me whose jobs were disappearing; and that’s why I am voting for Trump.” I ask him if he knew that Trump was meeting with Henry Kissinger for advice on world affairs–one of the so-called ‘new world order architects.'” He said he did know they were meeting and, fixing his gaze deep into my eyes, asked rhetorically, “You know what he said, don’t you?” He continued without waiting for me to reply.
With a confident tone, he proceeded to paraphrase Kissinger as he paused for a moment and glanced up as if Googling his memory:
He who controls the food controls the people. He who controls the money controls the world.
“Do you know that quote by Kissinger?”
“No I don’t, but I will look it up,” I said, thanking him politely.
Nelson asked me what I write about. I said, “it ranges from a bunch of everyday ‘slice of life stuff’ like our discussion here to the ways digital technology is fundamentally changing society into what I call the Frictionless Society. “Someday robots will probably be doing the work you do today,” I teased with a grin. He laughed and shot back, “…then that robot will be wasting its afternoon just like I am now, waiting for the government’s ‘Quality Control Robot Mark 5000’ to come by here to review and approve completed work.”
Nelson posed proudly in front of his finished work and cracked that he wouldn’t be around long enough to fight robots for his job. I trundled back to my studio reflecting on what was said.
The essence of the infamous Kissinger “non-quote” quote is the concept of nested levels of control. His four levels are listed below from lower to higher levels of control. I have added two additional levels of control that society is currently adapting to:
- from food,
- to people,
- to nations,
- to money,
- to digital information,
- to virtual reality.
If “reality” is a product of the mind, as neuroscientists tell us, the concept of “control” is surely, fundamentally an illusion because “reality” is just what we perceive it to be. Why try to control the world outside when the only thing we can and, perhaps, need to control is the world inside our own mind. Nelson and I are essentially in the same boat trying to make sense of the world as we see it in our minds–each of us managing our way through a state of constant accelerating change all around and in us.
We are both professional plumbers in this sense: He plumbs the world’s tangible infrastructure of things and their connections to keep it working; I plumb the world’s intangible infrastructure of ideas and their interconnections to keep it working.
Both are about the changing nature of work, jobs and creating new levels of value.