Category Archives: Death of Truth

Distrust of Medical authorities

 

As the Washington Post reporters said, “a public health crisis made worse by many people’s distrust of medical authorities while they rely on often-faulty information from some of the country’s most influential people, which is amplified through social media.” The classic example has been ivermectin medication approved for animals like cows and horses, but not humans. Many of the anti-vaxxers now take that instead of vaccines that have been extensively scientifically tested in large, randomized clinical trials, and given to more than 170 million people in the United States and billions of  people worldwide. Is it an exaggeration to say the world has gone mad?

 Of course, it is not surprising that the media shilling the horse deworming medication were mainly conservatives, particularly conservative radio talk show hosts. As I have been saying, this pandemic of disinformation has been driven significantly by conservatives and evangelical Christians. As Hawaii Lt.-Gov Josh Green, who is a Democrat and an emergency room doctor said, “When people get fixated on inappropriate recommendations, then they unfortunately don’t get vaccinated,” said Hawaii Lt.-Gov. Josh Green, a Democrat and an emergency room doctor who blames conservative media for fanning unfounded hopes about ivermectin. “They don’t do the things that will actually help.”

 Now hospital ICUs in some hospitals are being overwhelmed by patients who took the horse medication, rather than patients who have Covid-19. As the Post reported,

 George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, spoke with more certainty: “This is a drug that does not work,” he said, comparing those pushing ivermectin as a coronavirus treatment to “19th century snake-oil salesmen.

Of course, as always, this madness is being driven by Conservatives and Evangelical Christians that distrust government. As the Post said,

“Ivermectin has gained particular traction in conservative circles alongside accusations that the government and the drug industry are stifling discussion about the medication… For some already distrustful of the government’s coronavirus response, state and federal health agencies’ latest alerts matter little.”

 

One of the physicians who refused to prescribe it to humans because it had not been approved for that purpose felt the sting of the Conservative and Christian wrath: “people started accusing him of denying study participants a lifesaving medicine by giving some a placebo — part of any randomized trial, which is considered the gold standard approach to determine whether treatments are effective. “Are you a reembodied NAZI Josef Mengele?” he said one email read.”

There is no fury like the fury of the ignorant.

Ivermectin is being polarized, just as hydroxychloroquine was earlier by Trump and his followers. And of course, wherever there is ignorance or stupidity on steroids Fox News won’t be far away. As the Washington Post said,

“Fox News hosts such as Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson have also promoted the drug to large audiences, even as they sow skepticism of coronavirus vaccines as “experimental.” Carlson, who hosts the most-watched show on cable television, declared falsely last month that the vaccines “do not work” and in late June featured podcaster and former biology professor Bret Weinstein, an advocate of deploying ivermectin against the coronavirus.”

 

And if you think I am exaggerating or being unkind to call this stupidity here is what the Post said:

“Lisa VanNatta, a 61-year-old Texas rancher, maintained that the animal medicine is safe in the small doses she said she’s been taking monthly. Many others at the county Republican Club, where she is president, are using the drug in some form, she said. “They’re taking jiggers of it, drinking it,” VanNatta said of the people getting sick from ivermectin. “There’s always going to be some form of stupidity.”

 

Here is another example of strange logic:

“In Louisiana, 33-year-old Kortney Asevedo said she also fears the longterm effects of the vaccines, even after her unvaccinated mother died while sick with COVID-19 and taking everything that doctors prescribed, including ivermectin. “Me and my mom are kind of the same,” she said. “We wanted to wait and just kind of see.”

 

So, let’s get this straight. They wait and see for Covid-19 but not when it comes to ivermectin!  They are ready for that just because pundits on Fox News recommend it! Why? As far as I can see that is only because the government is not recommending it! If the government recommends it, then it must be bad for you.

 

We are living in a strange world—the result of the sleep of reason.

 

Not as Smart as Horses?

 

I have been criticized by some for my use of intemperate words such as “idiots.” They say this doesn’t help to have respectful dialogue.  They are no doubt right. But sometimes it is hard to do the right thing.

Yet, we must face the problem of vaccine resistance firmly and up front. We can’t pussy foot around the issue either. Frankly, we are facing a serious health pandemic that is driven now by some very poor choices—namely the decision not to take vaccines that are obviously helping and beneficial. Such choices are unwise. I would say they are largely ignorant choices though some people cannot take vaccines for good reasons. We must accommodate them.

The evidence now based on actual experience and not just scientific studies is very clear. As Canada’s Chief Public Health officer said, speaking of the Covid-19 approved vaccines: “unvaccinated people are 12 times more likely to be infected and 36 times more likely to be hospitalized if they get infected.” Is that not enough evidence? What more does anyone need?

Surely now, one would think, people would be flocking to take the vaccines?  If one thought that, one would have thought wrong. Again, as I have been saying, it shows that anti-vaccine beliefs are as unshakable as religious beliefs.

Even though new scientific evidence, shows that

“New Modelling released by Tam Friday showed if the current rate of transmission of Covid-19 remains the same, Canada would see more than 15,000 new cases Canada was seeing on average at the height of the third wave, through so far hospitalizations are not rising as quickly as they did in spring’.

 

That tempering of bad news of course is because of the effectiveness of the vaccines. We would be doing much worse if it were not for the vaccines. It could also be much better if more people took the vaccines.

People who don’t believe in the vaccines are stubborn—as stubborn as horses. Are they smarter than horses?

So, what have people who don’t believe in science taken instead of the scientifically approved vaccines that have been shown safe and effective by the actual experience of more than a billion people?  The answer is astoundingly unbelievable—a medicine used to kill parasites in horses! Ivermectin. No science fiction writer could a have invented something so insane. Does this not qualify as stupid?

As reported originally in the Washington Post,

“Doctors and public health officials say they have spent the pandemic fighting rampant misinformation on top of a deadly virus, but the ivermectin craze is one of their strangest battles yet. Promoted by conservative talk show hosts, politicians and even some physicians as an effective treatment for COVID-19, the medication has soared in popularity this year despite having no proven anti-viral benefits — and also some clear harms when abused. Prescriptions of the anti-parasitic medication, used to treat river blindness and intestinal roundworms in people, have spiked during the pandemic and especially this summer, jumping from an average of 3,600 weekly prescriptions in the year before the pandemic, to more than 88,000 in one week in August, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

 

Who would take anti-worming medication approve for livestock instead of vaccines approved for people? Is it not fair to say ignorant people?

The Washington Post article reported the Food and Drug Administration was reported as saying:

“Health departments are warning of spikes in ivermectin poisoning and hospitalizations as people snap up feed store products meant for large animals. “You are not a horse,” the Food and Drug Administration felt compelled to declare last month. “You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”

Can you imagine, some of the people were surprised that they got sick from taking the medication designed for horses and cows?

Is language that these people that are making choices that are “ignorant” or even “stupid” too strong?  I believe in humility and kindness, I really do, but sometimes it is difficult.

No More Bullshit

 

American author Norman Mailer was running to be mayor of New York in the early 1970s or late 1960s. He had a simple campaign slogan—“No More Bullshit.” I am not running for office and Norman Mailer came in last in that campaign but I always liked it. Now I think it is very appropriate.

Anti-vaxxers have had their days in the sun.  Now it’s time for them to get back to move on and  get real. As Tome Brodbeck of the Winnipeg Free Press said,

“Vaccines are working. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba has plummeted since the beginning of the vaccine rollout, from a monthly high of 350 in December to 11 deaths in August. The death toll has dropped every month since January, except for a slight increase in May and June during the third wave. New deaths fell nearly two-thirds in July compared with the previous month, and another two-thirds in August (even with the wider circulation of the delta variant and fewer public health restrictions than in the spring). Hospitalizations and ICU admissions are way down and the vast majority of those who require a hospital bed are not immunized. The effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine is nothing short of spectacular. 

The challenge now isn’t so much scientific as it is sociological: how to free enough Manitobans from the hypnotic forces of misinformation and indoctrination to boost vaccine rates above 85 per cent. No one really knows how to do that. It seems everyone knows someone in that category — a friend, a relative or a neighbour who has been influenced by (or considers themselves to be) an amateur vaccine scientist who has “done their research on the internet.”

 

Brodbeck also explained that we need more people to get vaccinated. Ontario’s scientific advisory board has calculated that 85% of the eligible population must be vaccinated before it makes sense to relax restrictions completely. Manitoba is only at 77%.  Until that goal is reached, we will have to live with restrictions and the only ones who can change this are the unvaccinated people. They are holding up our return to freedom. It is time for the unvaccinated to get with it.

Brodbeck summed it up very succinctly and very well: “The mandates won’t be lifted until a sizeable portion of the unvaccinated decide they want to rejoin the human race.”

Frankly, it’s well past the time where anti-vaxxers should have admitted defeat. The game is over.  We have experience now. More than a million Manitobans have had the vaccine. More than a billion world wide.  Very few have had serious side-effects. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that Covid-19 is a serious illness and the vaccines work extraordinarily well.

Dr. Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Official says his team has failed to identify one single death due to the vaccine. A very small number have got Covid-19 after being fully vaxxed. The anti-vaxxers say they want their freedom back. So do the rest of us and there is one, and only 1, reason we don’t have it back and that is because too many Manitobans have not been vaccinated. It is their fault that we are not back to normal. As many health care professionals have said, this is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated. But all of us are suffering not just the anti-vaxxers. People with serious medical conditions can’t get help because our hospitals have too many people with Covid-19. They are interfering with our freedom, not the other way around. We have put up with too much bullshit from them. It’s time to stop enabling them. No more bullshit.

Invasion of Idiots comes to Steinbach

 

 

 

Just when you think there’s no more room for ignorance, more of it comes sloshing into Steinbach. For the second time Steinbach was the scene of a protest of Manitoba’s health restrictions imposed by government officials trying to stem the tide of Covid-19.  Both protests were led by Sheena Friesen who called on those in attendance including me, to make our voices heard protesting the limits on our freedoms. I felt I had to see what was going on in Steinbach so I grabbed my camera and drove to our City Hall.  Needless to say, I was one of the very few people there wearing a mask. I stood out and was proud to do so.

 

Friesen is a chapter leader of an organization called Vaccine Choice for Canada. She urged us to ditch our fear and live life to the fullest. “Don’t acquiesce; don’t let them push you around,” she said. In fact, she assured us, “I will live under a bridge with my family like a troll if necessary.” She thanked God for bringing her to this community of protesters. There were about 100 protesters I estimated. Not a huge number, but Steinbach is much less vaccinated than most of Manitoba. The last figures I have seen showed Steinbach had vaccination rates of about 60% compared to more than 70% for the province.  The Rural Municipality of Hanover which surrounds our town has even lower rates of vaccine acceptance.  Vaccine resistance is real in Steinbach, as it is in Winkler and its surrounding rural municipality. They have the lowest rates of vaccine uptake in the province.  Does anyone think it is a coincidence that these regions are heavily populated with Mennonites and other conservative Christian groups and also strongly support conservative political candidates?   One of the speakers claimed “my Jesus is a rebel.” Funny I never thought of Jesus as someone who would selfishly put his “rights” above the needs of vulnerable people to personal safety. None of the speakers expressed any concern for the 30,000 people in Manitoba who have had to put aside surgeries and other important medical procedure because of the fears that Manitoba’s hospitals will be overwhelmed by unvaccinated people who contract Covid-19. These people care only for themselves and their “rights and freedoms.”

The grim reaper was in attendance. In fact he pointed at me and I pointed back. What did he mean? What did I mean? Is it wise to tick off the grim reaper?

Frankly, my overall impression of the speakers in attendance  is that they were selfish and stupid. That is a mighty powerful toxic cocktail. I really hate to put it that way, but their speeches were ill thought out and frankly not very smart. I was dismayed by the quality of the speakers. One said to the audience don’t worry if your children are not allowed in school for not wearing masks, “You can home school them.”  Have children home schooled by these ignorant people is a thought that is enough to make one shudder.

 

They think wearing a mask is a great violation of their freedom, immensely more important than the right to life and health of others around them.  One speaker, a very young man who “owned a corporation” said before the restrictions his business made a profit of $10,000 per day!  Last week after new restrictions came into effect reduced his daily profit to $400. A truly astonishing reduction. Unbelievable actually. But all he cared about was his loss of profit. He did not mention the people who got sick or were missing life saving surgery as a result of the unvaccinated.

More protesters who were not very friendly to facts.

 

In my opinion the speakers and those who loudly supported them  exemplified what Italian writer Umberto Eco referred to as “an invasion of idiots.” This is what he wrote:

“Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community. Then they were quickly silenced, but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It’s the invasion of the idiots.” (Trans. T. Bolin).

  

If this is the best of vaccine resistance its hard to believe it can be so dangerously effective. But is!

Science and the hobgoblins of fear

 

This photo was taken by me yesterday at an anti-vaccine rally in Steinbach where the message was that we should not give in to fear.

A reliance on reason, evidence, analysis and critical thinking is the hallmark of Enlightenment thinking and its progeny—science. Science is reason refined.  Science is not perfect nor is it the only way to understand the world,  but it is certainly the best. That does not detract from the arts and other disciplines. It adds to it.

 

The historian David Wooton reminded us how much the thinking of people has changed since 1600, the approximate time when the Enlightenment began.  He said that in 1600 the educated Englishman believed the following:

“He believes witches can summon up storms that sink ships.

He believes in werewolves, although there happen not to be any in England—he knows they are found in Belgium…He believes Circe really did turn Odysseus’s crew into pigs.  He believes mice are spontaneously generated in piles of straw. He believes in contemporary magicians…He has seen a unicorn’s horn, but not a unicorn.

He believes that a murdered body will bleed in the presence of the murderer. He believes that there is an ointment which, if rubbed on a dagger which caused a wound, will cure the wound. He believes that the shape, colour and texture of a plant can be a clue to how it will work as a medicine because God designed nature to be interpreted by mankind. He believes that it is possible to turn base metal into gold, although he doubts that anyone nows how to do it. He believes that nature abhors a vacuum. He believes the rainbow is a sign from God and that comets portend evil. He believes that dreams predict the future, if we now how to interpret them. He believes, of course, that the earth stands still and the sun and stars turn around the earth once every twenty-four hours.”

 

Steven Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now pointed out that within 150 years of the Enlightenment starting the ordinary educated Englishman no longer believed any of those things. That, when you think about it, is an astonishing achievement in a remarkably short period of time. That really is a revolution. And that is what the Enlightenment and science brought to us, and that is not an insignificant achievement. Pinker goes farther when he says, “It was an escape not just from ignorance, but from terror.” That is an achievement we should shout about. We should celebrate it. It is a magnificent accomplishment. This achievement allowed the world to escape from unreason. As Robert Scott a sociologist said, until then “the belief that an external force controlled daily life contributed a kind of collective paranoia.” Escaping the forces of unreasonable fears is vastly important, and we don’t think about that often enough. We have not escaped all unreasonable fears, and that is regrettable, but to escape so many, is magnificent. Science allowed us to escape what R.A. Scott called  “the hobgoblins of fear.”

Everywhere until then people were paralyzed by those hobgoblins of fear that were ushered in by superstition and irrational thinking. So, people thought the sea was filled with monsters, forests with scary predators, thieves, ogres demons, and witches. Everyday activities were governed by the belief in omens, portents of danger, and scary thoughts. It was difficult to carry on ordinary life under such circumstances.

The vaccine rebels keep harping that we should not be controlled by fear. I agree entirely with them on this point.  But their way is not the way to do that. In fact, I would suggest, they are actually giving in to fear.  If we listen to them they will bring us back to those hobgoblins. More on that later.

In times of pandemic we need science more than ever to escape the hobgoblins of fear. We need to turn from paranoia to the light. That is what enlightenment is all about. That is exactly what the anti-vaxxers don’t understand.

When Ideology Swallows Sense

 

I have been struggling to understand this amazing phenomenon that regions with a high prevalence of Christians and conservatives, such as southern Manitoba where I live, also have a high prevalence of vaccine hesitancy. Why is that the case?  What unites these two ideologies with nonsense? I think this is a very important question.

 

I have been surprised by the number of people that won’t take the Covid-19 vaccines because they don’t trust the government. To me that seems ludicrous. I have managed to dodge the prevailing political wisdom that assumes anything the government does is bad while anything the private sector does is good. I hear it all the time.  It is particularly prevalent here. That has been the prevailing political belief since at least the time of Saint Ronald Regan. Even left wingers are subject to this ideology; it is so common and so pervasive.

Some people blame the internet for this problem, and it is a partial cause.  But it does not explain enough. One of my favorite political commentators in my favorite newspaper (now a magazine), Nesrine Malik of The Guardian, pointed out something very interesting when she said,

“People with the wildest theories about the pandemic can be found in countries even where most people don’t have access to the internet, cable TV or the shock jocks of commercial radio. A common impulse is to write off those espousing conspiracies, consigning them to the casualties claimed by WhatsApp groups, disinformation or silent mental health issues. These things may be true – but vaccine hesitancy is a symptom of broader failures. What all people wary of vaccines have in common, from Khartoum to Kansas is their trust in the state has been eroded. Without understanding this, we will be fated to keep channeling our frustrations towards individuals without grasping why they have lost trust in the first place.”

 

Malik emphasizes that governments around the world, particularly in the developing world, have earned this distrust. Endemic corruption breeds justifiable distrust. I agree entirely with that. But what about countries like Canada with governments that are not as corrupt? Why is distrust of governments so common here? Not that our governments are perfect, but they have at least a modicum of integrity.

As Malik said,

“Vaccine rejection doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s easier to dismiss hesitancy and conspiracies as unhinged behaviour; it makes us feel less unnerved by displays of unreason from those who we think are, or should be, rational people. Sure, among vaccine-hesitant people are those who are simply stubborn, misanthropic or selfish. But, just as the pandemic exploited the weaknesses of our economic and public health systems, vaccine hesitancy has exposed the weaknesses of states’ bond with their citizens. There are no easy answers for how to deal with those who repeat conspiracy theories and falsehoods, but scrutinising the systems that lost their trust is perhaps a good place to start.”

 

I also want to point out that in the west since the 1980s during the reigns of Saint Ronny, Princess Maggie, and Prince Brian in the US. UK and Canada respectively, people have been fed a steady diet that the state is unreliable and predatory.  As Saint Ronald Reagan said, the most scary 11 words in the English language are, ‘I am from the government and I am here to help.’

 This is all part of neo-liberal dogma/propaganda that the government can’t be trusted only the private sector is worth our trust. Of course, this ideology has for decades served the interests of the wealthy who care more about minimizing their personal or corporate taxes than the plight of the less advantaged. As a result many of them  have used their wealth to convince us of its truth because it is in their interest to do so. This ideology is now so prevalent that even people whose best interests would be served by government are reluctant to accept its help. Vaccines are a case in point. Governments provide many things of enormous value that the private sector is unwilling or unsuited to provide including hospitals, roads, libraries, universities, parks, environmental regulations, health and safety standards to name only a few. For decades we have been taught and many of us believed that governments are bad and private enterprise is good.

Now we are paying a heavy price for blindly following that ideology.

Spreading Falsehoods in a time of pandemic

 

Steinbach, religion, and vaccine resistance is in the news again. Recently the Carillon News in Steinbach published an article about a family of 12 that came to Steinbach all the way from Lac du Bonnet to publicly protest against Manitoba’s official response to the Covid-19 pandemic.   I was struck by one of the photos that showed a very young girl, probably less than 10 years old carrying a sign that read “They killed babies to produce vaccines.” Needless to say that was a shocking statement. Absurd actually.

It took me a little while to realize that the sign was likely referring to the claim that stem cells from aborted fetuses had been used to produce one of the vaccines. These stem cells were “harvested” decades ago. Long before anyone ever heard anything about Covid-19. Yet I can see some argument here, namely that if those who think  that abortion is always murder, we should not try to “profit” from the murder. But the sign of course could not get into the complexities of examining that moral judgment. This is a complicated issue and I won’t get into here. Perhaps later. For now, I just want to say no babies were killed for the purpose of the vaccine as the sign suggested.

Each of us are entitled to our own opinions, even very young girls carrying signs.  But the moral issue is a little more complex than a sign at a protest might lead one to believe. Leading people to believe that vaccines were created by killing babies is a case of gross misstatement that is not acceptable in the midst of a health pandemic where people need the best information available. I will leave this issue with that comment for now.

Other family members of this young protester also carried signs. One read, “prayer and worship are the solution.” I would strongly suggest that in the case of such a pandemic good scientific data and advice from scientists should not be avoided in order to get answers to prayers. There is nothing wrong with prayer but if the desire to pray interferes with getting the best scientific data during a pandemic I am opposed to that.

Another family member held a sign that read, “First communism, then starvation.” This again reflected the right wing bias of many protesters. It show the strong connection between religion, right-wing politics and what I call unreason. Frankly, suggesting that Manitoba health orders are part of “Communism” is absurd.

I also recognize that historically many anti-vaxxers were left wingers, but I think in this pandemic most belong in the camp of the conservatives. If anyone thinks I am wrong I would ask them to enlighten me.

The father of the young protesters was interviewed by the Carillon News and he said, “The vaccine prevents nothing. Prayer and worship is about the only thing we can do, so that our way is to have a little bit of resistance to the government.” This statement again shows the frequent connection between anti-vaccines, Christianity, and right wing politics—the toxic brew as I have been calling it.

That is the statement that really bothers me. There is plenty of evidence that the vaccines are enormously important at preventing serious illness from the coronavirus. We see it every day in Canada and the US where since the vaccines have become widely available here in North America, the pandemic has largely turned into a pandemic of the unvaccinated.  Doling out misinformation that vaccines don’t help is seriously wrong.  I think the father should be ashamed of himself. I wonder if spreading such misinformation should be a criminal offence. It certainly should not be tolerated.

In a pandemic spreading nonsense or what I have been calling unreason,  can have serious consequences. We should all remember that. Every day in the Southern Bible Belt we have more unreason. It is blossoming. And the flowers are black.

 

Vaccine Unreason in Southern Health Region (Again)

 

I live in the Southern Health Region of Manitoba. While our region is very diverse, it also has many conservative Christians and conservative right wing people as well. I know I have been going on and on about these people and everyday I want to switch to another topic and then something else comes up. This happened again.

Our region also has the lowest rate of Covid-19 vaccinations in the province. Is that a coincidence? Or did that happen for a reason?

Last week, one day there were 56 new Covid-19 cases in Manitoba. Of those 22 were in the Southern Health region even though it only has a population of 211,986 people. Winnipeg, on the other hand, has a population of 791,284 people and it had only 18 new Covid-19 cases. The next day Southern Health had 41 new cases and Winnipeg had 29 new cases.

I think these numbers tell a significant story. What do you think?

At the same time, many people in our region complain how “my rights” are being trampled on by government health restrictions. Really, Winnipeg should complain about the alt-right Christians. Some people no doubt think I have been too hard on the Christian right in southern Manitoba. I think I have been too easy on them.

Since then our region has seen rallies by the Christian alt-right in Winkler and Steinbach. Both were similar with people saying their rights have been trampled on by health restrictions imposed by our government. It is interesting that our government is in fact a conservative government elected be these same people. Imagine how the people would protest if a heathen left-wing government did this to them.

 

One of the Winkler protesters said this: “mask use reduces oxygen levels, that she doesn’t believe in vaccinations and that, as a Christian, she trusts God to protect her from illness.”

The protesters include people of strong faith. The suggest that if they get a vaccine they don’t trust God anymore. They say they trust in God to heal them. That is all the protection they need. Vaccines can’t save them only God can do that. This makes me wonder if they have a tooth ache do they wait for God to heal them or go to a dentist? If they have a broken leg do they go to a doctor? What about if they have sever abdominal pains? Do they not have faith in God that he can heal them? Do they lock their doors when they go away on a holiday or let God protect them? How do they pick and choose what God can heal and what requires expertise? I really would like to know. Perhaps one of my faithful readers can enlighten me.

Hating Facts

 

Sometimes facts are uncomfortable. Sometimes we don’t want to face the facts. And sometimes the facts are so bad that we hate them.

Recently more and more people seem to hate the facts so much they won’t accept them as true. When that happens we are in trouble. As Paul Krugman, an opinion writer in the New York Times and Nobel Prize winning economist said,

“Republicans spent most of 2020 rejecting science in the face of a runaway pandemic; now they’re rejecting democracy in the face of a clear election loss.

What do these rejections have in common? In each case, one of America’s two major parties simply refused to accept facts it didn’t like.”

 

Of course, many in Canada are the same. This is not just an American phenomenon. Many people claim that they don’t believe that wearing a mask to protect against the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is effective or necessary even though the overwhelming scientific consensus is that they are wrong. Many people in the US claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen even though there is no evidence to support that claim and even though there is a lot of evidence that tends to debunk it. Paul Krugman said this about the die hard Republicans who still believe the election was stolen:

“the point isn’t that the G.O.P. believes untrue things. It is, rather, that the party has become hostile to the very idea that there’s an objective reality that might conflict with its political goals.

 

It is like a strong religious faith. It cannot be overturned by any facts. Faith works that way. That is why it is so dangerous. In the US, as Krugman also said, “At this point, you aren’t considered a proper Republican unless you hate facts.” It seems to me it is the same with the coronavirus among the deeply evangelical right in southern Manitoba. When Kyle Penner, a Mennonite Pastor in Steinbach gently asked the faithful to get vaccinated because they wanted to see them in church again, he was called a “traitor against Christ.”

In the United States conservatives venerate Ronald Reagan pretty much like a saint. As Krugman said,

“The main point, however, is that under Reagan, irrationality and hatred for facts began to take over the G.O.P. There has always been a conspiracy-theorizing, science-hating, anti-democratic faction in America. Before Reagan, however, mainstream conservatives and the Republican establishment refused to make alliance with that faction, keeping it on the political fringe. Reagan, by contrast, brought the crazies inside the tent. Many people are, I think, aware that Reagan embraced a crank economic doctrine — belief in the magical power of tax cuts. I’m not sure how many remember that the Reagan administration was also remarkably hostile to science.

Reagan’s ability to act on this hostility was limited by Democratic control of the House and the fact that the Senate still contained a number of genuinely moderate Republicans. Still, Reagan and his officials spent years denying the threat from acid rain while insisting that evolution was just a theory and promoting the teaching of creationism in schools. This rejection of science partly reflected deference to special interests that didn’t want science-based regulation. Even more important, however, was the influence of the religious right, which first became a major political force under Reagan, has become ever more central to the Republican coalition and is now a major driver of the party’s rejection of facts — and democracy.”

 

In this blog I have been trying to show that too many of the religious people, though not all, have been content to cast reasoning and evidence based reasoning aside in favour of blind faith. I think that is very dangerous. This is being proved right now during this pandemic. Giving up on critical thinking in favour of faith is dangerous. We do so at our peril. But it is difficult for some people to avoid this tendency. As Krugman said, in reference to the crazy lawsuit that was launched by Texans to challenge the 2021 presidential election won by Joe Biden,

 

“For rejecting facts comes naturally to people who insist that they’re acting on behalf of God. So does refusing to accept election results that don’t go their way. After all, if liberals are servants of Satan trying to destroy America’s soul, they shouldn’t be allowed to exercise power even if they should happen to win more votes. Sure enough, a few days ago the televangelist Pat Robertson — who first became politically influential under Reagan — pronounced the Texas lawsuit a “miracle,” an intervention by God that would keep Trump in office.”

 

I am deeply troubled that a significant part of our population holds so tightly to their convictions that nothing —no conceivable facts–can shake them loose from their beliefs. When beliefs reach such a state, we are in deep trouble. It seems to me we have reached this stage. The rejection of facts by the Christian alt right has been conspicuous during this pandemic. We may yet pay a heavy price for it.

As one of my favourite poets,  W. B. Yeats said, “The Best Lack All Conviction While the Worst Are Full of Passionate Intensity.”

Facebook, Vaccines and the Truth

 

Recently the American President Joe Biden, echoing what many pundits have been saying, said that Facebook and other social media were “killing people”. Was he right? There is no doubt that all kinds of untruths are flowing freely on social media. It doesn’t take long after surfing in it to realize that. But does that mean social media is killing people? Either way, what do we do about it?

First, we cannot say, as gun lovers say, ‘guns don’t kill people; people kill people.’ Similarly, it is not fair to say that social media doesn’t kill people; people kill people. We have to look at the issue with a little more nuance than that.

For one thing, Biden, and other liberals must be careful about what they wish for. Conservatives already believe that social media is yoked to liberal elites. Getting such social media to nix all misinformation about the vaccine may backfire. The conservatives may believe official sources less than before this happened. Lots of good information about Covid-19 and other matters is also spread by Facebook. Not just bad stuff.

Facebook has also pointed out in a statement:

“The fact is that more than two billion people have viewed authoritative information about Covid-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”

 

Philip Bump of the Washington Post said, “states that voted for Donald Trump in the last election are suffering vaccination rates far lower than states that went for Biden. This suggests the anti-vaccine movement has achieved a kind of cultural escape velocity.”

If there is one thing we have all learned in the age of the Internet, it is that it and in particular social media, such as Facebook is astonishingly effective at fanning embers of untruth into raging fires. It is much less effective at spreading truth.

Some of us think we are immune to the lies of social media. Perhaps we should not be so confident. Is fact checking so easy? Is due diligence enough?

As Kara Swisher said,

“But the ability to resist social media juggernauts pales in comparison to the tremendous power of these platforms to amplify bad information. Attempting to stop falsehoods by claiming to offer good information is like using a single sandbag to hold back an impossibly fetid ocean. It’s like that when it comes to a range of once-anodyne, now divisive issues, from election integrity to critical race theory to whatever, keeping this country in a constant state of twitchy confusion.

Is Facebook killing people, then, since it provided the invention that allows all this to happen? Not exactly. But it reminds me of the famous quotation that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes,” which is — ironically — misattributed to Mark Twain (it is considered to actually be a version of a line first written by Jonathan Swift).”

 

Wherever it came from, it remains even more prescient, except now lies travel much faster — thanks to Facebook.

We should be careful about immodesty in criticizing others until we have our own house in order. We must be willing however to point out those who have earned criticism. For example, the blatant falsehoods on Fox News much not be quietly accepted. Remember how at the beginning of the crisis they said it’s not as bad as the flu. Then later, they said it was stupid to wear masks. Now they are haranguing on about vaccines and health orders.

So things are complicated. Truth is complicated. As Swisher said,

“The truth is that Facebook serves as a gateway to both, presenting clearly solid information about Covid, as well as a place where an enormous flood of lies about it has overwhelmed the same zone — and for a much longer time.

Back in May of last year, for example, as noted in The New York Times, there was “Plandemic.” That is a 26-minute video alleging that a secret group of powerful people were using the virus and the upcoming vaccines to make money and consolidate control over the world.”

 

For example, the film Plandemic spread a number of falsehoods about the pandemic that thanks to Facebook quickly spread around the world, including, even, to  the tiny little hamlet of Labroquerie Manitoba 10 Km from here where their Reeve, Weiss “learned” untruth and untruth and helped spread the misinformation in our region.

We need to think critically–even about social media. After even though it spreads a lot of lies, it also spreads good stuff–like this post.