Category Archives: reason

Thoughtlessness

 Hannah Arendt also wrote a book about the trial of Adolf Eichmann. She used that famous expression “the banality of evil” to describe him and his kind.  He was a man who facilitated horrid acts of violence against the Jews.  But Arendt said what set him apart was his “thoughtlessness.” To her he looked and acted like a boring accountant.

She had been shocked by how glib he was in court. He talked about exterminating millions of Jews as if it was nothing. What was there for him to admit to, he asked. He suggested, as did Himmler, that they could be reconciled with the Jews.  They had a sense of elation when they considered this possibility. But the feelings were not real. It was, in Arendt’s phrase, “an outrageous cliché.”  She said, “it was a self-fabricated stock phrase, as devoid of reality as those clichés by which people had lived for twelve years.”  As Carol Brightman said, “Clichés and conventional sentiments functioned as armor blocking the consciousness of the accused at just those painful junctures where painful intrusions of reality threatened.” These are some of the enemies of thought. In fact, during the trial Arendt had noticed how Eichmann was not perturbed by his starling contradictions. He was certainly not engaged in thinking. He was not stupid. He was just completely thoughtless.

Arendt was stunned that such horrific crimes could be committed without consciousness. She said she disagreed with Kant, who, according to her believed that stupidity was caused by a wicked heart. She contended instead that “absence of thought is not stupidity, it can be found in highly intelligent people, and a wicked heart is not its cause, it is probably the other way around, that wickedness may be caused by absence of thought.”

According to her teaching assistant Kohn, Arendt believed, as I believe, that “thinking conditions people to resist evildoing.”  Most ethicists do not accept this, but I find it profoundly compelling. I believe, like the American novelist Henry James, that ethics is high reason. Where there is no reason there is no ethics. this is what the sleep of reason is all about.

Arendt was clear when she said that everyone could think. Of course, that does not mean that everyone will think. You didn’t have to have an education to think. She was not elitist.

Arendt got mad when Jews accused her of being self-hating and anti-Jewish as a result of her book on Eichmann. She said that all she wanted to do was to think about what he had done. She wanted to understand him and that was not the same as forgiving him or being soft on the Nazis. It was her job as a philosopher to think about these things. And she thought that was very important. In the film about her, Arendt summed up her thinking this way,

“Trying to understand is not the same as forgiveness. It is my responsibility to try to understand. It is the responsibility of anyone who tries to put pen to paper on this subject. Since Socrates and Plato we have understood thinking to be a silent dialogue between me and myself. In refusing to be a person Eichmann utterly surrendered that single most defining human quality, that of being able to think. And consequently he was no longer capable of making moral judgments. This inability to think created the possibility for many ordinary men to commit evil deeds on a gigantic scale, the like of which one had never seen before. It is true I have considered these questions in a philosophical way. The manifestation of the mind of thought is not knowledge, but the ability to tell right from wrong; beautiful from ugly. And I hope that thinking gives people the strength to prevent catastrophes in these rare moments when the chips are down.  ”

 

For Hannah Arendt, what thinking meant was to train the mind to go wandering.  I love that concept. It brings me back to my concept of meandering.  I love to meander–physically and mentally. That is the essence of free thinking (and there is really no other kind) to meander through thoughts without regard to preconceived ideas, ideologies, or prejudices. Only the free mind can think. I said that. But that is a concept directly inspired by Arendt.

Arendt’s first major book was On the Origins of Totalitarianism. She thought there was something new or modern about totalitarianism. It was not like anything we had seen before. It presented profound change from everything that preceded it. It was much more than tyranny or dictatorship. It cut at individual will. It cut at our individual identity. In fact, according to one of Arendt’s most profound insights, totalitarianism cuts at our capacity to think.

As always, I ask myself how this is relevant to our times. There are not many totalitarian regimes around right now, but there are movements—various forms of populist movements—that tend in the same direction. I think often of the American near fascists—i.e. the Trumpsters, the insurrectionists on Capitol Hill that were looking to hang Mike Pence only because their leader told them that he had been betrayed by Pence.  That was enough to set off ordinary people looking to hang the vice-president of their country! Had they lost the capacity to think? To me it seemed that way.

Hannah Arendt: Reason and Tyranny

 

I read a number of books by Hannah Arendt about 40 years ago as young lad in university. I continued to read after I left university because I enjoyed her insights so much.  I loved her books then; I love them now. She really understood tyranny, fascism and totalitarianism better than anyone. For quite a few years after that, I thought those issues were behind us. We had solved them. I was wrong. Unfortunately those issues have become important again.

Hannah Arendt was a brilliant political theorist/philosopher, born in Russia and a student of the legendary German philosopher Martin Heidegger. She wrote about what she had learned from the European political tyrants of the 20th century, particularly Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. I particularly enjoyed her book The Origins of Totalitarianism which she wrote in 1951. How could a book on political theory written 70 years ago be relevant to today? I think it is profoundly relevant.

Hannah Arendt understood die-hard fans. She understood fanatical zeal. She understood the followers of totalitarian rulers or populists. As she said, “the ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false no longer exists.”

 

To this the Canadian philosopher Henry Giroux recently said, “Today nothing could be more true than that.” Arendt also said, “thoughtlessness is the essence of fascism.” In a modern America where reason has been abandoned by so many, this is a deeply disturbing thing to consider. Is America on the path to fascism? It may not there yet, but is that where it is headed? More and more of us are convinced that they are well on the way to fascism if they are not there already.

Our species has impressive powers of reasoning. It is what sets us apart from most species. Yet we give up our advantage all the time. Why do we do that? Why do we allow reason to go to sleep? More importantly, why do we do that when it is clearly against our own interests to do that? That is a very big question. One I would like to answer.

It is crucially important not to  abdicate our power of reasoning. If ever we give up our rationale for beliefs we are doomed. In my opinion, we must always insist that all beliefs are based on evidence and reason.

Our reasoning power may be weak. It is certainly far from perfect. For each and every one of us our power of reasoning is flawed, but we never have a better tool to justify belief. Any belief.

Reason goes to sleep whenever we don’t base our beliefs on reason and evidence. For example, the bars to reason are many and varied and include the following among many others: faith substituted for reason, indoctrination, fear, prejudice or bias, laziness, ignorance, herd instinct or wish to conform, wishful thinking, ideological blinkers, and advertising or propaganda.

All of these substitutes for reasoning are dangerous. In politics, as we are finding out now again, as people did in Europe in the 1930s, when we abandon reason we put everything in jeopardy. Abandoning reason is an invitation to tyranny.

Anti-Intellectualism and Anti-Science

 

A lot of people think they are know just as much as scientists. That really is dumb! We see this all around us. Everyone thinks they or their uncle Ernie who spends endless hours on the Internet watching social media thinks that it is not necessary to have an education to know what it takes to navigate a pandemic with a novel virus.   Ian Hanomansing, in his book Pandemic Spotlight quotes a front line physician Dr. Sain Chagla of Hamilton who said,

“I can say it bewilders me when all of us—10 plus years trained, 10 plus years in clinical practice, constantly looking at the evolving evidence every day—that someone dismisses us, saying, ‘you’re completely wrong because I saw this YouTube video.’ It’s almost funny.”

 

But it’s not funny; it’s crazy.

 

The Final Dark Truth

 

In his novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad tried to show us what he thought was a dark truth. It is not just a truth about European society, he showed it was a truth about all of us. You and I too.

Bu how can a person face this horrifying darkness?  Marlow has some advice. Clearly pious phrases are not the answer. Nor noble truths.

“Let the fool gape and shudder—the man knows, and can look without a wink. But he must at least be as much of man as these on the shore. He must meet that truth with his own true self—with his own inborn strength. Principles won’t do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags,–rags that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you want a deliberate belief.”

 

You need deep inner strength to face such horror. It takes strength of character and courage. It reminds me of the person Leslie Fiedler, an American literary critic described in his bookLove and Death in the American Novel—the person who had the courage to go the end of the dark cave with a torch to see the tragic.  Fiedler like Conrad, realized that “The final horrors, as the modern society has come to realize, are neither gods nor demons, but intimate aspects of our own minds,” Fiedler said in his book.  We are the final horror! What an awful truth to face.

Fiedler saw this as the final consequence of the age of reason. I disagree. I think it is the final consequence of the abandonment of reason. Racism, white privilege and exploitation on an insane scale,  were the result of reason being forsaken in favour monstrous desires. The age of reason Fielder said, dissolved in sentimentalism, “in a debauch of tearfulness; sensibility, seduction, and suicide.”  Fiedler noted how the French philosopher Diderot wrote about Richardson the author of that classic novel, Clarissa: “It is he who carries the torch to the back of the cave… He blows upon the glorious phantom who presents himself at the entrance to the cave; and the hideous Moor whom he was masking reveals himself.”  Surely, “the hideous Moor” is a striking symbol of the demonic in ourselves, which the Enlightenment inadvertently discovered in its quest for light.”  Not that dissimilar from Kurtz who found that demon in his pursuit of noble ideals in the deepest jungle of Africa. We have created that image of the hideous Moor.  He is not real except in our own minds.

 The racial component here is not accidental either. The hideous Moor is, of course, black. He is at the heart of darkness. It is the black Moor that we fear the most and will do anything to stamp out. But that Moor is Us! He is the product of our original sin!

Kurtz found that demon when he looked at those shrunken shriveled heads on poles.  Heads that showed shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of teeth grinning horribly and “continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber.”  Those heads “only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts.”

From that came the understanding only at the last that “the wilderness had found him out early and had taken him on a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it whispered to him things which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude—and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating.”

As I said earlier, the horrors perpetrated by Kurtz in the jungle were never described by Marlow. That was because he did not know what they were. He just knew that they would be even worse than the heads on spikes. Marlow had the feeling that

“such details would be more intolerable than those heads drying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz’s window.  After all, that was only a savage sight, while I seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief.”

 

The heart of darkness within the human mind was much, much worse. That was what Marlow could not bear.  He could not carry the torch into the back of the cave and confront that horror, as Kurtz had done. He did not want to know. He did not want to know the truth about himself. Do we want to know truth either?

 

Facts over Fear

 

Fear is a powerful emotion and it can be a force for good as well as force for bad. . We all need some fears. Young children learn to fear hot stoves thanks often to their mothers who instil that fear in them. That is a healthy fear. We could be seriously hurt if we did not have that fear. There are many positive fears like that which help us to avoid danger or harm. That is all for the good.

Other fears can be completely disarming. An example I often use is the United States. It is a country dominated by fear. They spend more money on arms and weapons than the next 8 or so countries behind them combined. That is what fear drives them to do. Everyone knows they would be much better spending the money on other things, many of which could actually make some of those fears go away. For example, Americans have a great fear of crime. As a result they spend vast sums on policing or weapons and that does little to drive away the fear. Fear can make us do stupid things.

There is plenty of fear going around these days. Recently, I attended an anti-vaccination rally in Steinbach and the leader of the rally as far as I could determine was a woman called Sheena Friesen. She spoke a lot about fear. She claimed fear of Covid-19 was making us do stupid things.

One person held a sign that read, “Facts over Fear.” I agree entirely with that sentiment, yet I think he and I have a very different conception of what we should fear. It seems he thought we were mistaken in fearing the virus that causes Covid-19. I think our fear of that virus is healthy, but we should not let it get out of control.

The difference is this. I believe that fears are valid and a force for good so long as they are kept under control and are rationally based on evidence of harm which the disease can cause. In other words, some fears are reasonable others are unreasonable. By definition, an unreasonable fear is called paranoia. Such fears are always a force for evil since they are not based on evidence.

American philosopher, Martha C. Nussbaum had important things to say about fear in her fine little book, The Monarchy of Fear. The title itself says a lot, suggesting we should not be controlled by fear. We should never let fear be our boss or king. Here is what she said,

“There’s a lot of fear around in the U.S. today, and this fear is often mingled with anger, blame, and envy. Fear all too often blocks rational deliberation, poisons hope, and impedes constructive cooperation for a better future.”

 

This is precisely right. The real problem with fear is that it can and often does interfere with rational decisions making. For example, I admit that I have an unreasonable fear of heights. It is not a rational fear. If I get to the edge of a tall building or structure I start getting scared even when there is nothing to fear. After all, I am not going to pitch myself off the building. I am not going to fall over the edge. There is nothing to fear, but I can’t stop being scared. I even get scared when I see total strangers getting what I think is uncomfortably close to the edge, when they have no such fears. My fear is unreasonable. Therefore, it is an irrational fear and I should learn to control it and not allow it to control me. That is easier said than done however. Nussbaum says fear can disrupt rational deliberation, leading to unwise choices. I think we can all think of many examples of exactly this.

Beyond making us suffer, irrational fears can lead us to make bad decision for our community and our country. From a public policy perspective we should not allow fears to lead us to faulty decision making. It can be dangerous. For example, Nussbaum said,

“What is today’s fear about? Many Americans themselves powerless, out of control of their own lives. They fear for their own future and that of loved ones. They fear that the American Dream–that hope that your children will flourish and do even better than you have done–has died, and everything has slipped away from them. These feelings have their basis in real problems: among others, income stagnation in the lower middle class, alarming declines in the health and longevity of members of this group, especially men, and the escalating costs of higher education at the very time that a college degree is increasingly required for employment. But real problems are difficult to solve, and their solution takes long, hard study and cooperative work toward an uncertain future. It can consequently seem all too attractive to convert that sense of panic and impotence into blame and the “othering” of outsider groups such as immigrants, racial minorities, and women. “They” have taken our jobs. Or: wealthy elites have stolen our country.”

 

Fear drives us to make unreasonable decisions. For example, if people have an unreasonable fear of government or authority they can refuse to listen to them when they give us good advice such, advising us to take vaccines that mountains of research and by now millions of actual experiences such irresistibly that our vaccine are safe and beneficial.

I think fear of others led Americans to make a disastrous decision in electing Donald Trump as president in 2016. It was a disastrous choice and led to near catastrophic results. Americans irrationally feared others such as Muslims, Mexicans, and elites. The last of those might have been a rational fear. Certainly more rational than the first two.

As Nussbaum said,

“The problems that globalization and automation create for working-class Americans are real, deep, and seemingly intractable. Rather than face those difficulties and uncertainties, people who sense their living standard declining can instead grasp after villains, and fantasy takes shape: if “we” can keep “them” out (build a wall) or keep them in “their place” (in subservient positions), “we” can regain our pride and for men, their masculinity Fear leads, then, to aggressive “othering” strategies rather than to useful analysis.”

 

The most effective means of dealing with such “othering” is to rely on our sense of fellow feeling. Empathy can chill many a pervasive fear. In fact, fellow feeling is the opposite of “us” vs. “them.”

According to Anti-vaxxers like Steinbach’s Sheena Friesen we are overly scared of Covid-19 and as a result we impose irrational restrictions on others like forcing people to wear masks or take vaccines that are dangerous.

In my opinion, fear of Covid-19 so long as it is held in check is an entirely reasonable fear. Millions of people have already died from it. Millions more have got sick, often with permanent damage. Millions more again, have had important medical treatments such as life-saving surgeries dangerously delayed. These are not unreasonable fears. These are completely reasonable fears which lead us to take reasonable precautions such as wearing a mask or getting vaccinated. Hundreds of millions of people have already taken the vaccines with remarkably few serious side effects. Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Medical Officer of health recently said he and his team have so far found no deaths in Manitoba that could properly be attributed to taking the vaccine and very few cases of serious illness resulting from the vaccines. At the same time, they have saved thousands of lives in Manitoba.

I think the antivaxxers, not the rest of us, have been dominated by unreasonable fears of the vaccine. They are ruled by unreasonable fears, not those who are taking reasonable precautions at very little cost.

 

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.

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.

Hate Club

 

Canadians often think they are immune to the craziness of American politics and life. Not so. Lately, we have experienced American style polarization fuelled by hate. In the past it is has led to serious violence in Canada and it might happen again.

In the 2021 Canadian federal election there has been a spike in hate. Most of it has been focused on the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who seems to be a lightning rod for hate. Recently in Bolton Ontario he was forced to avoid scheduled stops because the RCMP has said it was unable to guarantee the safety of the people attending his rallies. As the Winnipeg Free Press reported,

“Trudeau has been dogged by protesters throughout the campaign, most of them voicing angry opposition to mandatory vaccinations, masks and lockdowns that have been implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

 

Some of these protesters have got down right nasty. According to the Free Press this was caused by

“Conservative campaign workers were spotted among a crowd of raucous protesters who forced the cancellation of a Liberal event featuring Justin Trudeau in Bolton, Ont. At least four volunteers for local Conservative MP Kyle Seeback were photographed among the angry, obscenity spewing crowd, wearing blue “Team Seeback” T-shirts.”

 

The protesters are tweeting with the hash tag” #hateclub.” I think this tells you all you need to know about them. The last thing Canada needs, yet what is getting, are haters.

Showing their allegiance to right wing nonsense the Free Press reported,

“At least some of the protesters appear to share views with supporters of former U.S. president Donald Trump, seemingly importing many of the conspiracy theories prevalent among his followers that led to last January’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol.

In a live videostream of the Bolton event, protesters can be heard calling Trudeau a criminal, a communist, a murderer and a pedophile and berating police for being “pedophile protectors.”

In the video, posted on Facebook by a self-identified American woman, a woman can be heard saying that if Trudeau wins the election, it will be because it was “rigged.”

 

 

Trudeau responded by saying,

“I think this is something that Canadians, all of us, need to reflect on, because it’s not who we are,” he said, adding that everyone has had a difficult year and that “we need to meet anger with compassion.”

 

How do comments like that trigger such hate? I am not so sure that Trudeau is right about such conduct being un-Canadian. It seems to be more and more prevalent in Canadian society but he did hit the right tone. The other political leaders were also quick to denounce the antics of the protesters and that was good to see as well.

 I am still worried about the rise of hate in Canada. We don’t need vaccine unreason spiced with conspiracy theories and right wing lies. Is Canada ready for the storm? That’s what Qanon calls the return of Trump.

 

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.