Tom Evslin: Burning the ships after landing

This commentary is by Tom Evslin of Stowe, an entrepreneur, author and former Douglas administration official. It is republished from the Fractals of Change blog.

Generals have been known to burn their own ships after an invading army lands to show their troops that they have no way to go but forward. “Reformers” like this strategy also. If you shut the mental hospitals, kinder more effective ways of dealing with mental illness will happen. If you fire the cops and release offenders, the root causes of crime will be dealt with. If you shut down the nukes and stop drilling, renewables and drastic conservation will immediately happen. Trouble is that the world doesn’t work that way.

Tom Evslin

Mental Health

The book and movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest helped turn America against large “mental hospitals”. The horror of some of these institutions had long been documented. We decided to shut these places down and end the misery and abuse of patients. The theory was that modern psychiatry and drugs would allow the inmates to lead lives in the community or in pleasant local institutions. Deinstitutionalization became the rule; large institutions like the hospital in Waterbury, Vermont were emptied out and not replaced as they fell into decay.

The problem is that theory was wrong. The community institutions were never built, to a large degree because of community resistance. People with acute mental problems are not very good at taking the drugs prescribed for them – and are easy marks for those selling drugs which make their problem worse. Psychotherapy is hardly a quick or certain cure. Housing is hard enough to obtain and maintain for those with moderate income; it is impossible for those with severe mental problems. Our cities are spotted with filthy homeless encampment. Emergency rooms are increasingly dangerous for both patients and staff because the mentally ill are bought there and then remain.  Although most people with untreated mental illness are more danger to themselves than others, too much violence is committed by mentally ill people who are a known and repeated offenders. New York City is now returning to involuntary incarceration of schizophrenics for public safety reasons although it is not clear what institutions they’ll be sent to.

Mental institutions should have been reformed. Involuntary commitment will always need safeguards. Perhaps community health centers should be built regardless of local opposition. But the large mental hospitals should have remained in operation while being reformed and until alternatives were actually available. Now we are faced with reconstructing them or locking the mentally ill in with the general prison population. We burnt the ships too soon.

Criminal Justice

Well-meaning people, appalled by some horrific instance of police misconduct, forced cuts to policing with the belief that the public would be protected by “addressing the root causes of crime” and sending social worker to deal with threatening situations. Nice theory. But we haven’t reduced the root causes of crime. Partly because of the mental health crisis, social workers are demanding police protection for calls they used to make on their own. Offenders  are imprisoned less; they have more opportunity to reoffend; they do reoffend. We appear to need more police – and we have less. We have more crime. We burnt the criminal justice ships before we had any way to go forward.


Large nuclear power plants frightened people – although they have the best safety record of any energy source and are carbon-free. Germany shut down almost all of its nukes; so did Japan for a while; the US did not recondition older nukes or replace them with newer designs. Like Vermont Yankee, the old plants are shutting down without a clean replacement for the power they generated.

Fossil fuels make a contribution to climate change. Europe pretty much stopped drilling for oil and natural gas. The United States hasn’t built needed pipelines and has disinvested in fossil fuels. Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was clear that sufficient renewables, energy storage, and transmission facilities were not available to replace the shuttered nukes and depleting fossil fuel sources. The energy shortage might be even worse had the pandemic not slowed growth. Putin saw the energy fix we’d left ourselves in and it emboldened him to defy Europe. We burned the energy ships when we still needed them.


Real problems like abusive and ineffectual mental hospitals, crime and police misconduct, and energy production’s effect on the environment must be dealt with. Burning the ships before alternatives are in place historically makes problems even worse.

Image courtesy of Public domain
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13 thoughts on “Tom Evslin: Burning the ships after landing

  1. While the examples are true and have much merit there is more behind this than bad management.

    If one were to look into the game plan of military subversion….you’d find this was all planned out on purpose.

    If one only follows the current mantra, “you will own nothing and be happy”, the subtitle to build back better, the pieces all start to fit together.

    It’s about power and money. Drug companies make the money on drugs. Drug dealers get to tear our society down and make profits. Taking control of the energy sector gives government massive control.

    Now you throw in the same subversive tactics in religion, primary and secondary education, the medical field, the press…..

    and Voila, you’ve completely taken over an entire country without firing a shot. This is the ultimate art of war as described in the book Sun Tzu, the art of war. If my book were handy, I’d cite the page.

    We own you, we own your thoughts, we own your actions…..and the social credit scoring app is just around the corner……..

    It’s all in the plan. It’s there for all to see and read.

    Thankfully there is a higher power, a higher law….that can lead us out of this mess.

  2. How about Shumlin’s leftist posse tearing down VT Yankee, while any viable alternatives energy sources would not be anywhere near significant for at least 10 to 15 years.

    Sheer, subsidy-chasing villainy

    • What about Hydro Quebec..? It’s been our neighbor for decades and has offered to sell Vermonters all the green power the State requires at less than half the cost of wind, solar and methane. HQ is sustainable power from the fourth largest hydroelectric producer in the world – more than enough to carry us into the nuclear fusion age. HQ power is here. All we have to do is flip the switch.

      But, again, hey I get it. Why bother?

      • If you watch the video, Willem, Dr. David Kirtley, Helion Energy, is saying “…ten years or less” for commercial applications.

        But hey, I get it. Why bother?

        • Jay,

          I studied the physics at RPI in the 60s
          There has been no NEW physics since then

          This process would require decades of pilot plant development

          It that were successful, then a commercial plant, which would take at least another 15 years

          If all goes well, power production, 24/7/365, around 2060, or later

          According to AOC, we had 12 years a few years ago, before the world is irredeemable lost

    • Indeed it is a game changer. Although it’s going to be, perhaps decades, before practical use and marketable development. But yes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and this invention is impressive.

      • The size of Albany? Today, perhaps. How large does a solar array have to be to power all of Vermont? How many windmills will it take? One must crawl before they walk and walk before they run.

        But again, hey… who cares that the now proven potential of fusion power demonstrates that one cup of sea water can power a household for a lifetime, or make the climate change panic old news, or eliminate pollution and poverty?

        I mean, who cares? Why are we investing in sending people to the moon after we proved we could do it 50 years ago? Why are we worried about the Chinese invading Taiwan, controlling computer chips and antibiotics, or controlling the rare-earth minerals required to make batteries? Why is Russia able to monopolize its oil and natural gas… to invade Ukraine and threaten nuclear war? Why are 10,000 people a day breaching our southern border because they don’t have the resources to thrive in their own countries?

        The only people who are going to poo-poo this amazing fusion achievement are those with a vested interest in the truly antiquated and corrupt alternatives. Talk about jousting with windmills. If Vermonters want a viable, clean, abundant, and inexpensive energy alternative to bridge the gap, they need go no further than Hydro Quebec. But no… no one wants to talk about that either.

        Why bother? It’s only humanity at stake, after all. And the snake oil salesmen want to make their money for as long as they can convince people to invest in their potions. Might as well give Sam Bankman-Fried, who founded and led FTX, another couple of billion dollars… not to mention the U.S. Congress, K Street, and all the other hangers on.

        What? Me worry?

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