Michael KreponChance Encounter with Chauncey Gardiner

Quote of the week:

“Chance favors the connected mind.”

—Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

Longtime readers will recall that Chauncey Gardiner has occasionally imparted his wisdom to readers of ACW. I went looking for him last week, notebook in hand, seeking firmer ground in these unsettling times.

MK: Chauncey, you are a sight for sore eyes. You’re dressed in rags and wielding expensive gardening tools.

CG: You know me: part slob, part snob. The plants are indifferent to my affectations, but they sense my intent.

MK: Which is?

CG: To impose my will temporarily over a small but blessed patch of the Earth’s surface.

MK: Are you a benign ruler as well as an ineffectual one?

CG: Absolutely not. I have an enemies list, and my enemies are God’s most fecund creations. They’re called weeds. I admire their powers of procreation—but not in my limited domain and brief jurisdiction. The weeds have greater powers than me, but I persist. Sort of like you arms controllers.

MK: Now hold on, Chauncey. You can’t compare nuclear weapons with weeds. Weeds are boundless. Large landmasses have refused nukes. And their number has been reduced many fold. And by the way, when was the last time you saw a nuclear weapon used on a battlefield?

CG: The mushroom-cloud image is seared into humanity’s retina. Nothing is more dread-worthy. You’ve got that going for you. That alone is enough to stop some of these damn-fool ideas. But they keep coming. How effective were all those anti-Trump-finger-on-the-nuclear-button advertisements?

MK: They energized lots of people.

CG: To what end? The fear you spread fades into feelings of hopelessness. The fear they spread of the dangers of falling behind is stronger.

MK: Putin has messed up our plans for a safer, saner world.

CG: You were running on fumes even before Putin bared his soul. You can’t fight totem power with arms control, or pie-in-the sky disarmament proposals, or fancy constructs dreamed up by eggheads fifty years ago. It’s not an even playing field and you’re using words that have no purchasing power. Go ahead, give me your tutorial on deterrence stability, but make it quick before I lose interest.

MK: Chauncey, I came here seeking equanimity.

CG: I had it before you arrived. Now you’ve gotten me riled up. I’m irritated that bad ideas are being tried over and over again, with the same results. I’m angry that these cocooned Masters of the Universe are shredding safety nets—and I don’t mean just Medicare. Why aren’t you doing a better job protecting our nuclear safety nets? I am more than irritated by your inability to connect with ordinary folks and young folks to turn this mess around. I know you are working your butts off, but you’re speaking to the choir. Don’t count on Trump to pull your irons out of the fire. He is the fire. Figure out how to speak to people where they live, not where you live in your head. There, I’ve said my piece. Can I go back to weeding now?

MK: The chickweed doesn’t stand a chance. Are we on the record?

CG: Thanks for asking. And while you’re here, make yourself useful. Grab this fishtail weeder and get your fingernails dirty. The moss has interlopers.


  1. Elizabeth Talerman (History)

    Believe it or not, that chickweed is fantastic in a salad. Puts a whole new spin on what’s a weed and what’s not! Thanks for speaking the truth Michael and for helping to promote the necessity of telling the story in new ways in order to reach new audiences and achieve new (better) results.

    • Michael Krepon (History)

      Will Fed Ex some of North Garden, Va.’s finest at the next harvest.
      Best wishes,