Category Archives: The Sleep of Reason

In the Age of Anger loud Voices Prevail

 

Melissa Martin is a very good writer working for the Winnipeg Free Press.  Talking about Covid-19 and the antivaxxers and anti-mandaters, she said she found “Sadness amid the Madness.”  Why was that?

Specifically, she wrote an interesting piece about a man and woman with a child at one of the innumerable Covid-19 protest rallies in Winnipeg, who held a sign that read, “It’s my choice. Live with it. I will.” These people had gone to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, thinking there was protest rally there. One had been held there a few days earlier and the protesters disrupted health services. Some health workers were afraid to go to work to help others in desperate need. Not just Covid-19 patients either.  Not really the best place for a protest rally. So, organizers, sensing a lack of public support for a rally there, changed the location at the last minute and this man and his wife and young daughter were not aware of it. They were wandering around largely by themselves. Martin said it was sad.  She also said,  “Anti-vax protests point out a tragic societal fracture that seems beyond mending.”

I think she is right because this is no longer a health issue. It has probably never been a health issue. It is a political issue. In fact, it is a theological issue.  People hold anti-vax and anti-mandate views as they hold religious views.  They are held so tightly that no evidence and no reason can change minds anymore. Just like religion.

The family seemed lost and deflated. As Martin said,

“Imagine what led you there. Imagine what vicious rhetoric you’ve consumed that would allow you to see a hospital entrance as an appropriate place to make your stand. Imagine waking up that day ready to protest outside a hospital, only to find your family arriving alone, sign dangling from your hands.”

 

Martin also saw, what I have been seeing—the same type of people appear at anti-vax rallies as showed up at pro-Trump rallies and worse,  at places like the riot on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 6, 2021.  The people at the hospital rally, or the Winkler rally or the Steinbach rally, were not rioters, but they appeared angry. After all, as Pankaj Mishra said, “this is the age of anger.”  People are angry. When they get angry they get mean and nasty. And thoughtfulness flies out the window. Lately, we have seen this in Winkler and Steinbach as I blogged about earlier.

As Martin said,

“It could have been worse. A lot worse. Since the start of the pandemic, one of the animating factors in resistance to public health orders and, now, vaccines has been rage, the same combustible rage that drove far-right protesters to storm the U.S. Capitol in January. It’s driven by many of the same players. It shares the same characteristics.

On Twitter, one woman responded to a video of an Ontarian People’s Party of Canada candidate firing a rifle, and said the candidate should “bring that bad boy to tomorrow’s raid on Toronto General Hospital,” because protesters would “get inside and show the world that COVID is fake.”

They didn’t go into the hospital. Yet while one shouldn’t put too much stock in the hot air a random person spews on Twitter, the naked aggression is alarming, and the threat has precedent. Last year, self-appointed “truth seekers” entered hospitals to “prove” the virus was a hoax; it’s entirely possible it will happen again.”

 

People are so angry that they feel it is legitimate to try to intimidate our over-worked health care workers who have not done anything to impose the mandates on them. They are just ordinary health care workers doing their heroic work to save lives during a pandemic. Anger directed at them is frankly much worse than sad. It is not surprising that some of them revolt. One frustrated hospital worker in a Calgary hospital put up a sign in a window that read, “Go intubate yourself.”

These protesters don’t believe science which they think is a hoax. Yet they believe  government officials are trying to impose health mandates to control us. again I have heard this personally. Others think doctors are hiding real cures like horse de-wormers. Yet as Martin said,

“When the numbers show that hospitals are in crisis and vaccines are both safe and effective, they are dismissed as “manipulated.” Everyone on Facebook anti-vaccine groups knows a guy who knows a guy whose cousin is a nurse and swears ICUs are empty; when ICU nurses speak about what they’ve endured, that information is disregarded.”

 

I know this too as I have been told the same thing. Martin acknowledged that there are reasonable questions about Covid-19. One of my cousins last week told me there is evidence that people who are vaccinated can spread Covid-19 as easily as those who are not vaccinated. If that is true it blows a major hole in the case against mandatory vaccinations. More on that later.  There is room for reasonable discussion. Science is not crystal clear. People are suffering from the restrictions in business and in mental health. But it is very difficult to have reasonable discussions when people harass health care workers. Or shout absurdities.

Martin summed up the problem this way:

“The problem is, none of those concerns can be given a fair hearing, when the loudest voices in opposition are tied up in threatening health-care workers, propagating conspiracy theories and potentially deadly misinformation, and thunderously insisting that the only relevant consideration is “personal choice.”

That’s the thing about a pandemic. It puts light on the error in the main ideological streak underpinning these most aggressive protests: the idea that anyone lives as an island, our choices not affecting others. A pandemic is a virus infecting society as one body; it requires the co-ordinated response of the whole body to fix it.

It’s my choice,” the man’s sign said. “Live with it.” That’s exactly the problem: we already are. What’s sad is, he cannot see it.”

 

As I have been saying, Goya is right, “the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.” And we have to fight them.

Folly on Stilts

The English Philosopher talked about “folly on stilts.”  I have forgotten what he was talking about when he used that expression, but he might have been talking about our current  Member of Parliament.

The Member of Parliament for the federal riding in which I live is Ted Falk. Recently, He got into trouble during an interview with our local newspaper the Carillon News when he claimed that according to a Public Health England Study of 130,000 people that, “you were 13 times more likely to die from the Delta variant if you were double vaccinated, then if you were unvaccinated.” Later he said that he came up with this statement when he was doing “his own research” into Covid-19. Doing their own research is of course what the anti-vaxxers keep saying we should all be doing. That sounds good, but it is actually tricky if you have no background in science. In fact, Falk showed exactly why it is a problem. It’s difficult. It is really beyond most mediocre minds, like mine,  without great effort.

It seems to me that Mr. Falk ought to have been alerted to a problem with his research when he encountered such a far-fetched position. 13 times more likely to die? What could be more dubious than that?

In times of emergencies what we all need, particularly from our leaders, is critical intelligence. Thinking. Clear thinking. Not credulity. Our leader proved himself incapable to that.

Tom Denton, an opinion writer for the Winnipeg Free Press said we need common sense. That is not quite right. John Prine warned us that common sense isn’t any sense at all. What we need is the capacity to think critically about the issues of the day. As Denton said,

“It means considering all the available evidence before making decisions—and it means making decisions, not avoiding them. It means seeing the world as it is, not as we pretend or wish it. It means leaving behind ideology on the trash heap of history where it belongs, and making practical plans for the future instead of being held hostage by the mistakes of a troubled past.”

This is especially important for our leaders. In times of crisis we need the best leaders. Sadly, this is not what we have. Not only that, but too many people are discarding their critical thinking and believing what they want to believe. That is why Ted Falk jumped to believe something absurd, because it fit in so well with his ideology, his preconceptions, and what he wanted so much to be true.

The last few weeks in Manitoba have shown us something new—protest rallies near hospitals that have been so exuberant they interrupted access to emergency health care. It is hard to believe it has happened, but it did. As Denton said,

“As I watched the anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-science, anti-evidence protesters blocking access to hospitals, it seemed common sense was clearly on life support. If we want to avoid the QAnon-style lunacies that befuddle American politics and threaten its democracy and stability, we need to follow the evidence, not invent it.”

 

Common sense (or critical thinking as I prefer to call it) can lead us out of the wilderness of unreason in which we now find ourselves. We must use these skills with diligence and not fall into the trap into which Falk fell. Yes, we should not just believe as we are told. We should look at the evidence. But we must be careful. As Denton said,

“There is no situation you can’t research for yourself, thanks to the internet, but you need to look beyond the click-bait and self-appointed experts.”

We have to use our critical thinking skills or we will be throwing ourselves to the barbarian mobs and the monsters of unreason. And if we do that, there will be a price to be paid.

 

It Sucks to be a Conservative

 

In Canada and in the United States many people, but nowhere near a majority of the people, are objecting to actions by the government that they see as “over reaching” or imposing duties on them that are not justified in a free and democratic society. Some have gone as far as to call the health restrictions imposed by governments as “authoritarian” or “fascist.” Protesters in Manitoba, particularly in southern Manitoba, a region deeply committed to conservatism, have been making very similar remarks.

As Max Boot reported, in the Washington Post,

“Republicans explode with fury,” noted Fox “News” Channel. Republican governors threatened to file suit to stop what Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp called “this blatantly unlawful overreach.” Fox News accused Biden of being “an authoritarian” and declaring “war on millions of Americans.” Breitbart claims he went “full totalitarian” and the Federalist called it a “fascist move.”

 

Blinded by partisanship and populism, Republicans have lost all perspective. The crux of their argument — to the extent that they have one — is that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no right to tell companies with at least 100 employees that workers must either get tested weekly for COVID-19 or present proof of vaccination.

This is the same OSHA that has issued myriad regulations over the years governing such aspects of workplace safety as the placement of step bolts. (“The employer must ensure . . . step bolts are uniformly spaced at a vertical distance of not less than 12 inches (30 cm) and not more than 18 inches (46 cm) apart.”) I have no idea how many workers have been injured by misplaced step bolts — frankly, I’m not even sure what step bolts are — but I am guessing it is not many. I do know, however, how many Americans have been killed by COVID- 19: 655,000 and counting. If OSHA can protect against the menace of step bolts, I’m pretty sure it can protect against the deadliest pandemic in a century.

 

While I generally agree with these important points, I believe the last paragraph goes too far. This is not a perfect analogy. Placing bolts a certain distance apart does not impose a heavier burden on the citizen. Inserting a needle into an arm and injecting a substance that the individual believes will be harmful to him or her against his or her will, is a much more intrusive violation of the rights of the citizen and will require a higher burden of proof on the state to justify. Yet, I think it can be justified.

We know that conservatives in Canada and the US generally object to governments telling businesses what to do. At least they object when their political opponents impose their will. When their own party does it the objections are much less vociferous. For example in the United States, some governments such as the state of Florida have mandated (I use that word deliberately) that businesses are not permitted to demand vaccine passports from their customers. So far, at least 6 state governments led by Republicans, have passed laws prohibiting private businesses from doing exactly that. In Canada, and the United States, governments have in the past required students to demonstrate to school officials that they have taken a host of vaccinations for diseases such as polio, hepatitis, measles, mumps and rubella. They did that of course because those measures helped to prevent serious illnesses and these requirements were imposed without fuss or muss, because the issue of vaccinations at the time were not controversial. Nearly everyone saw the wisdom of such measures. The reason of course, is that vaccines were not political issues as they have become recently. President Trump played down the significance of the pandemic and told people it would just magically go away and they had nothing to fear. As Boot said, “His cult followers therefore felt compelled to echo his Panglossian outlook by falsely claiming that COVID-19 was no worse than the flu or promoting quack remedies such as hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin as miracle cures.”

As a result of identity politics, where people refused to take the vaccine or do take the vaccine, not on the basis of science, or analysis, or data, but on the basis of which political group they identify. As a result, in the US Boot reported that

“According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 86 per cent of Democrats have gotten vaccinated but only 54 per cent of Republicans. That, in turn, translates into rising numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the red states. Over the past couple of weeks, the United States has been losing an average of 1,579 people a day to COVID-19. More than a third of those deaths (570 a day) are in just two red states: Florida and Texas.”

 

For similar reasons, Florida led by Republicans, where more than 3 times as many people per capita have been dying from Covid-19 than California which is led by Democrats. The rate of death in Florida is 10 times higher than New York which is led by Democrats. In fact, recently, where the US was suffering 1,579 deaths per day from Covid-19 and more than 1/3rd of them were in just two conservative led states, namely Texas and Florida. It sucks to be a conservative in the US!

As Boot said,

“Republican governors don’t seem to mind killing their constituents in the name of a twisted theory of “medical freedom,” but that doesn’t mean the president of the United States is helpless to protect the life and wellbeing of its citizens. In fact, as Washington Post contributing columnist Leana S. Wen argues, Biden still has not gone far enough — for example, he still needs to mandate proof of vaccination for airline and train passengers.

 But at least Biden has given up the hope that he could reason with COVID-deniers and anti-vaxxers. The Republican reaction to his sensible mandate shows that much of the right is beyond the reach of reason. It is now time to use federal power to protect the most basic of civil rights: the right to life.”

 

Although not every one will agree, I must say that I do agree.

 

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.