Category Archives: The Sleep of Reason

Anti-vax memes myth the mark


Confession: the Winnipeg Free provided me with that snappy title.

Today is December 20,2020 so you can expect crazy things. Besides the serial 20s,  this is my birthday. Yikes.

Today, I read a fascinating article by Joel Keilman in the Winnipeg Free Press  that reflected on exactly the issues I have been blogging about of late. The issues are truth, lies, and ethics. The article commented on some of the myths surrounding the vaccines that have now been developed and appeared in Manitoba this week. It’s time for people who have lost confidence in science to come out. And they have come out.

The lies and falsehoods are spreading out and a credulous public is lapping them up like thirsty dogs. Keilman reported on a TikTok video like this,

“As a melodramatic song plays, Rousseau, young, blonde and elaborately mascaraed, silently portrays a woman beaten to death for refusing to take a vaccine that contains a microchip carrying the mark of the beast. At the end, she enters a heavenly skyscape emblazoned with the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.

The video has been seen more than 680,000 times, garnered 47,000 likes and, despite thousands of mocking comments (“Ma’am, this is a CVS”), earned plenty of positive reviews.

“This is so incredibly powerful,” one viewer wrote.”

Unsurprisingly, in our polarized world, thousands of people have been inspired by this video to praise the Lord and thousands have been inspired to mock the gullible. In this case at least, I think it is clear which side got it right.

Here are some of the myths (that is really too kind a word) people are spreading on line:

  1. The vaccine contains a microchip

Apparently this one has been around for years, but has been amplified recently. People fear that microchips have been secretly implanted in vaccines so that the government can keep track of you. People worry about this rather than the device everyone carries that can actually be used to do this—smart phones. This conspiracy theory has been spread by many, including in particular Alex Jones and InfoWars, the conspiracy theorist Trump loved so much. Supposedly Bill Gates is also involved as is 5G technology.

Other myths include these:

  1. The vaccine will alter your DNA
  2. The vaccine will give you COVID-19
  3. Our immune systems are better than vaccines

There are others but you get the idea.

The anti-vax movement has been strong and I suspect is growing stronger in recent years. According to Keilman’s article a recent poll showed that only 47% of Americas intend to take the vaccines. The percentages of Canadians are probably not that far behind. I know people who say they won’t take a vaccine. They are suspicious of it. There are some reasons to be wary, primarily related to the surprising speed of the development and approval of the vaccines and particularly to fear that the current American president may have had his foot on the accelerator.

The problem is that society needs people to trust the vaccines. Particularly because the vaccine’s have such a high efficacy rate, wide- spread use of them could bring about herd immunity soon and that would be a tremendous benefit for millions of people and our health care systems and workers. The vaccines’ high efficacy rate, much higher than that of flu shots, could swiftly bring about herd immunity that would prevent people from encountering the virus at all.  But if people are afraid to take the vaccines because of the lies they are fed on the internet all of us will suffer. Even those who take the vaccines because we all pay for our health care system and many of us won’t get the proper treatment because of unnecessary Covid cases in hospitals.

And this brings me to the point I have been trying to make. These credulous people are not innocent. They are dangerous! They are dangerous to public health. In times of a public health crisis we need to trust science, we need to respect the truth and the truth gathering process. We need to be suspicious of crazy stuff we find online. The misinformation being spread on the internet is dangerous. Fomenting distrust in public institutions as so many are now doing, including political leaders, is a dangerous and costly to us all. That is why irrational beliefs are not innocent. We should not tolerate them. We should voice that intolerance quietly and respectfully without scapegoating, but we should not keep quiet.

Beliefs have consequences. Therefore they are not all ethical.


Did you know Tump won 3 or 4 Noble Peace Prizes?


For quite some time, significant portions of modern society have demonstrated an impressive devotion to ignorance. They wear their ignorance on their sleeve, suggesting they are proud of it. As a result it is hardly surprising that ignorance seems so often to be on the march.

Just yesterday I posted about Baldwin’s profound  idea that “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” Then later the same day I listened to a stellar example. A television interviewer on one of the Comedy News shows interviewed a Trump supporter. The interviewer wondered why the supporter continued to support Trump after he was soundly defeated in the 2020 election and his claims of voter fraud had been repeatedly rejected  by the courts. The woman gave an amazing answer. She said, “I support Trump because he won 3 or 4 Noble Peace prizes.” Then when the interviewer mockingly said, “You are very knowledgeable,” to which the woman responded “Thank you.” She had no idea she was being mocked.

Such stunning ignorance dos not happen by accident. It is the product of decades of disdain for knowledge, education, and reasoning. That’s what we get for glorifying ignorance.

I know that there are plenty of ignorant supporters of the left and the right. Ignorance is not unique to Trump supporters. There is plenty of ignorance to go around. But we must always remember, such ignorance is dangerous.


Ignorance Allied with power is a ferocious enemy of justice

If a person gives up on evidence, he or she gives up on truth. If, for example, faith is the foundation of belief one can only convince another of the truth of that belief if that other person shares the same faith. A Muslim cannot convince a Christian of a statement of faith. Similarly a Christian cannot convince the Muslim of a statement of faith either. A Muslim could persuade a Christian that the book in her bag is red by opening the bag and showing it to the Christian. In other words by showing the evidence to the Christian, the Christian can be convinced that the book is in fact red. If we give up basing beliefs on evidence we will relegate a lot of claims to realm of faith where agreement will not be possible.

The same goes for hunches. For example, when Trump said he had a hunch that the coronavirus would soon disappear that would not convince anyone, other than a person who had faith in Trump. Many of them had that faith so he could persuade them. They would believe him no matter how likely it was that he was right. That is why evidence is better than faith, or hunches, or feelings, or gut reactions. Faith is all right in our personal lives. In social lives where we live and interact with each other we need evidence.

Without evidence then the world of shared facts shrinks dramatically. The only shared facts then are those between members of the same faith, or between people who have the same feeling, or the same hunch. As result of the world of shared facts having shrunk many more people are ignorant than otherwise should be the case. That is an unfortunate consequence of abandoning evidence. And there is another consequence of that.

When people in power are ignorant, the rest of us had better look out. As James Baldwin said, in his 1972 book No Name in the Street: “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

 In the summer of 2020 we saw a good example of this when Black Lives Matter and their supporters took to the streets to protest police brutality against black lives and the long history of black oppression.


As Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, recently pointed out: Not in generations has a sitting president so overtly declared himself the candidate of white America.”

Trump allied himself with right wing groups who wanted to maintain confederate flags and monuments so that racial bigotry and hatred could be legitimized. By doing so Trump tried to hide the roots of racism. In other words he allied himself with ignorance, as he has so often done. As a result the streets of America were made much more dangerous that summer than they ought to have been. He did that after all to emphasize to his base of white supremacists and their conscious and unconscious supporters that he was on their side. It is hardly surprising that he would do this in the midst of a tight election campaign. As Henry Giroux said, “After all, his white supremacist ideology is the cornerstone of his appeal to the reactionary and bigoted elements of his base.”

For exactly the same reason Trump got angry with NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag. It was what Giroux called “organized forgetting”. And when that is aligned with the most powerful office in the world, the American Presidency, that is, as Baldwin said, the most ferocious enemy justice can have.

Trump also proudly tweeted that critical race theory should be banned from all federal agencies because “this is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue . Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish! ” People should be ignorant instead. That was more congenial with Trump’s ideology–white supremacy.

He also tweeted “How to be anti-white 101 permanently cancelled.” Really what he wanted to do is erase history. He wanted to show just the good parts. The parts that exalted whiteness. I am not saying whites are all bad. I am just saying they were not all good, and to suggest otherwise is a lie and an attempt to bury the truth. It is an attempt to entrench ignorance.

Giroux described it this way:

“Trump’s ignorance floods the Twitter landscape daily. He denies climate change along with the dangers that it poses to humanity, discredits scientific evidence in the face of a massive pandemic, claims that systemic racism doesn’t exist in the United States and mangles history with his ignorance of the past.”

Implicit in Baldwin’s warning is that the greatest threat to democratic societies is a collective ignorance that legitimizes forms of organized forgetting, social amnesia and the death of civic literacy.

Under the Trump regime, historical amnesia is used as a weapon of miseducation, politics and power. Trump wants to erase the struggles of those who fought for justice in the past because they offer dangerous memories and lessons to the protesters marching in the streets today.

Efforts to erase the progress of the past, including emancipation, is a centrepiece of authoritarian societies. These efforts cause public memory to wither and the threads of authoritarianism to take root and become normalized. They’re often accompanied by a broader attack on critical education, civic literacy, investigative journalists and the critical media.

When people stop looking at the evidence, they stop looking for the truth and they allow ignorance to rule. And that helps injustice to flourish. And that is an ugly thing.

Conspiracy Theories about Coronavirus

The habit of believing things without evidence is uniquely dangerous. I think it is one of our most dangerous habits. Because such habits are so dangerous such beliefs are unethical. Perhaps nowhere is that more obvious than during a pandemic.

Incidents that generate a lot of anxiety are uniquely susceptible to the virus of Conspiracy theories. The international coronavirus pandemic that started in Wuhan China at the end of 2019 was a spectacular example of that. During the pandemic coronavirus conspiracy theories were generated as explosively as microbes in a Petri dish. The comedian John Oliver put it well: “Coronavirus has created the perfect storm for conspiracy theorists.”

To begin with, early on many conservative pundits, including TV personalities, actual doctors, Talk Show hosts, politicians, and others claimed that the seriousness of the pandemic was grossly exaggerated. The Internet film Plandemic was viewed 8 million times. According to John Oliver, this film was “a pseudo-documentary with a hodge-podge of conspiracy theories.” It seems likely that this show is what spurred R.M. of La Broquerie Reeve Lewis Weiss to make his remarkably unfounded statements about Covid-19.

In that film Judy Mikovits claimed to be a whistle-blower. She was a former scientist at the National Cancer Institute who was now an investigative journalist looking at Covid-19. In the film there was a swat team surrounding her house, so her claims must be real. So people thought.  Actually the swat team surrounding the house had nothing at all to do with her claims. There was no connection at all to Judy Mikovits. This was a blatant attempt to make her look like a serious whistle-blower, but she was really just a serious blow-hard. She was one of the people who claimed that wearing a Covid-19 mask actuated your own Covid-19 virus. She also claimed that closing beaches as some American States were doing was “insane,” because that kept people away from the healing viruses on the beach. The only thing insane, according to Oliver was Judy Mikovits.

Examples of conspiracy theories spreading without an inkling of truth to them, include the claim that masks that people around the world were urged to wear were themselves dangerous and could amplify the virus rather than protect against it, because you could become sick from the virus already inside your own body. Another theory was that Bill Gates was responsible for starting the virus or at least was responsible for keeping it going because he wanted to gain control of the vaccines when they were developed so that he could capture the market and also implant a chip inside them so that he would gain control of the world. Another example, is the claim that the new 5G Internet network is to blame for the CV-19 pandemic. The only thing astonishing about these theories is the number of people that subscribe to them without evidence. Another theory, promulgated by conservative pundits of various stripes, was that the virus was being over-touted by Democrats in order to defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election

According to the Kennedy School in Harvard “over half of Americans endorse at least one conspiracy theory.” The School also pointed out that given the transmissibility of the disease conspiracy theories are dangerous even if only a fraction of Americans succumb to them and as result ignore best practices such as social distancing. Some on-line conspiracy theories have already had some worrying real world consequences. Minimizing the harmfulness of Covid-19, for example, led to people not taking the virus seriously and hence failing to protect themselves, leading to the people getting harmed or passing on the virus to others.

Conspiracy theories are dangerous but those involving an international pandemic are particularly dangerous. As Julian Kestler-D’Amours reported,

“Researchers say conspiracy theories about COVID-19 are spreading at an alarming rate across the country — and they warn misinformation shared online may lead to devastating consequences and push Canadians to shun important safety measures.”

“I think that people should be enormously concerned,” said Aengus Bridgman, a PhD candidate in political science at McGill University and coauthor of a study published last month on COVID-19 misinformation and its impact on public health.

The study found the more a person relies on social media to learn about COVID-19, the more likely they are to be exposed to misinformation and to believe it, and to disregard physical distancing and other public health guidelines.

About 16 per cent of Canadians use social media as their primary source of information on the virus, Bridgman said in a recent interview.

There were other studies as well. Another study published in May at Carleton University indicated 46 per cent of Canadians believed at least one of four unfounded COVID-19 theories: the virus was engineered in a Chinese lab; the virus is being spread to cover up the effects of 5G wireless technology; drugs such as hydroxychloroquine can cure COVID-19 patients; or rinsing your nose with a saline solution can protect you from infection. In other words nearly half of Canadians believe such nonsense.

The fact that the scientific process and issues about Covid-19 are poorly understood, the financial pressures many people face, and given the frustration that has been growing amid restrictions people’s freedoms has amplified the problem with the disinformation circulating. All conspiracies are dangerous, those conspiracy theories circulating during a pandemic are peculiarly destructive.

During such times people really need the best available evidence to make reasonable judgments that affect the safety of themselves or their loved ones. It is not a good time for beliefs based on insufficient evidence.

When reason sleeps madness rules


If you want to know more about what happens when people get in the habit of believing whatever they want to believe entirely without evidence, look no farther than the United States. Look right now.

The United States is in the midst of a pandemic. Recently the United States daily death rate has gone over 3,000 people. Every day more people die from Covid-19 than died in the 9/11 crash into the Twin Towers of New York. Yet what are Americans doing about it? They are going crazy!

The United States is now filled with Covid-deniers joining their climate change deniers. People are attacking each other over the issue of masks. Many people ignore the evidence that masks help keep people safe. One of the consequences of this is ugliness and violence.

As the Associated Press reported,

“Arguments over mask requirements and other restrictions have turned ugly in recent days as the deadly coronavirus surge across the U.S. engulfs small and medium-size cities that once seemed safely removed from the outbreak.

In Boise, Idaho, public health officials about to vote on a four-county mask mandate abruptly ended a meeting Tuesday evening because of fears for their safety amid anti-mask protests outside the building and at some of their homes. One health board member tearfully announced she had to rush home to be with her child because of the protesters, who were seen on video banging on buckets, blaring air horns and sirens, and blasting a sound clip of gunfire from the violence drenched movie Scarface outside her front door.

“I am sad. I am tired. I fear that, in my choosing to hold public office, my family has too often paid the price,” said the board member, Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo. “I increasingly don’t recognize this place. There is an ugliness and cruelty in our national rhetoric that is reaching a fevered pitch here at home, and that should worry us all.”


South Dakota has recently rocketed to the top of the United States in Covid-19 caused deaths, but that has not brought the health officials any respite from the local crazies. Instead, things have got worse. In Rapid City the mayor and City Council Members were harassed and threatened over a proposed citywide mask requirements even though the proposal failed to gain support. It seems that as the city and really the country see a surge in American deaths and new Covid-19 cases the people are turning away from evidence and reason in favour of noise and mayhem. Meanwhile the Governor, Kristy Noem has been loud in her opposition to mask requirements. Amazingly, people who showed up at a City Hall meeting  vigorously endorsed the do-nothing approach even as doctors warned them that the only hospital in the western part of the state is in a crisis state for lack of space. Patients were being flown out of the South Dakota, but the public does not want to wear masks. Ignoring science, the people said the dangers of the virus are overblown and mask requirements violate their liberties.

In Boise people also threatened politicians leading to 3 arrests outside the homes where they were protesting. In Gallatin County in Montana protesters gathered for 2 consecutive weeks outside the Bozeman home of county health officer Matt Kelly to voice their vociferous objections to his regulations requiring state-wide mask wearing.

Reason doesn’t rule in much of the United States; madness rules.

The Sleep of reason produces monsters


As I said previously, we are not entitled to believe whatever we want. We have the legal right to do so, but it is a right we ought not to exercise. When we believe a statement without evidence that justifies the belief, just because we want to believe it, we are training the mind to do that again. Then the mind is ready to believe another untrue claim. We learn the habit of credulity and perhaps encourage others to do the same.

This can lead to dangerous situations. In modern society this has become a pandemic that is perhaps even more dangerous than the Covid-19 pandemic.

A good example of this was the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Remember that one? By now everyone has heard of Qanon. I have called it the mother of all conspiracy theories.  It led to Pizzagate. This is what decades–no centuries of American unreason have led to. It is the product of credulity.

This conspiracy theory arose out of the 2016 American presidential election. It referred to a harmless family pizza restaurant in Washington D.C. called Comet Ping Pong that was also frequented by a number of Democrat political leaders. Many parents showed up with their children to eat pizza. Nothing strange about that.

However there was some strange fake news about it. There was a wildly irrational conspiracy theory about what was happening at that restaurant. According to the conspiracy theorists things were not that innocent. “Pizza” was actually a code word, they said, for young girls and boys who were trafficked for sex. Some were killed for their organs. It was said the liberals abused the children in the basement of the restaurant. Supposedly there was a cabal of Hollywood celebrities including Tom Hanks and political leaders like Hillary Clinton and other members of the liberal elite that molested young children at this restaurant. But there were no missing children. And no basement. and no evidence. None of this was needed to spread on the internet.

Some rabid right wing pundits like Alex Jones, whose status was enhanced by Donald Trump’s lavish praise after his election, amplified the wild theory. It all arose out of the hacked emails at the Democratic Party headquarters. People looked at emails from Hillary’s advisor John Podesta that kept referring to “cheese pizza” which obviously meant child pornography. After all they could not have been talking about pizza.

After frequent urgings, one of Jones’ Internet followers, a young married man with young children took him up on the challenge and showed up at Comet Ping Pong Pizza armed with a knife and an AR-15 style assault rifle prepared to die in the cause of rescuing those poor children he believed, entirely without any evidence, were in the grip of pedophiles in the basement of the restaurant. Imagine his surprise when he showed up and found there was no basement, just a ping pong room filled with kids and their parents playing ping pong and eating pizza! But it really was not that funny because on the way there he phoned his home and told his wife that he might be dying in the cause for he was fully prepared to sacrifice his life to defend these children he did not even know. He actually fired his gun in the restaurant but thankfully he was a woeful shot and no one was hurt. But someone might have died. Firing an assault rifle in a restaurant filled with happy patrons is a dangerous thing to do.

That is the point. It is one thing to believe whacky theories without evidence, but such beliefs can lead to serious consequences. People could get hurt. Believing crazy stuff without evidence is a dangerous thing. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor believed the pizza-gate theory. He re-tweeted stories about the pedophile ring. Remember he was, for a short time, the man who was advising the president of the United States on matters of national security! And he believed stuff like this entirely without evidence, just because he heard about it on the Internet. That is what the world has come to as a result of credulity. Credulity is not innocent; it is dangerous.

Often fake news originates from people who benefit from such stories. Like Trump, or more likely his faithful supporters. Amy Davidson, a New Yorker writer described the situation this way:

“Which is more alarming: the idea that Pizzagate is being promoted by politically motivated cynics who don’t actually believe it, or that people with influence and proximity to power, including people with access to the president , are really susceptible to this sort of nonsense? Both can be the case; fabricators and wide-eyed believers can be side by side, in Twitter feeds or Trump Tower, or, soon, in the White House. Many things are likely to go wrong for Trump and to disappoint his supporters. The fear is that he and they will try to explain his failings by pushing conspiracy theories of all kinds. The spirit of Pizzagate could become as commonplace, in this country, as the smell of pizza. And how does one even measure power and influence in the context of social media, or, for that matter, in a country with few effective gun-control laws and a President-elect who got crowds cheering with talk of armed citizens taking down terrorists in crowded cafés? How much power belongs to a man in his twenties walking into a pizza place with an assault rifle, looking for secret chambers and hidden messages?”

Fake news and conspiracy theories without evidence are never benign. They can easily bring dangerous consequences with them. They are not amusing. They are toxic. Pizzagate led to a man walking into a restaurant prepared to die to protect non-existent victims of sexual abuse and all of this was the direct consequence of fake news. In other words news believed without evidence.

The Spanish painter Francesco Goya was right: “the sleep of reason produces monsters.”

Coronaviruses of the Mind


I have been trying to explain why we are not entitled to just believe anything at all because we want to. If we do that we encourage ourselves and others to be credulous. People should only believe what the evidence supports.

Part of the problem is that people pass on their superstitions and their prejudices and irrational beliefs to their children. Added to that, ordinary people in ordinary situations can infect others with their irrational beliefs. Irrational beliefs are never innocent. Such beliefs often have seriously harmful consequences.

Philosopher Arthur Schafer “sees irrationality as a kind of infection.” If we didn’t before, we now know how dangerous infections can be. The same holds for infectious beliefs. For example, Lewis Weiss the Reeve of the R.M. of La Broquerie said if he did not feel sick he could not pass on Covid-19 to anyone else. The science says he is wrong. He should listen to the science or he might infect others who in turn can infect even more people. That is how a virus works. Weiss’ belief, just like the coronavirus, was not innocent. In fact it was dangerous.

When the evidence is not clear, people should suspend belief. But people love to take a leap of faith. This is exactly why irrational beliefs are so dangerous. They can spread like a virus leading to others believing what you believe, even though there is no evidence to support that belief, but even worse, can lead others to believe other irrational beliefs because they have been conditioned to do that by the culture of belief. I think that is what happened recently in the United States. Trump believed (or at least claimed he believed) that the recent election was laced with voter fraud and had been stolen from him. He had no evidence for that, as was shown repeatedly in various courts. Yet many people came to believe that. As a result these people won’t believe in the legitimacy of Biden’s election. That could have very dangerous consequences in a country as polarized as the U.S.

Because of our long-standing habit as people in both Canada and the U.S. and many other countries, “Credulity is a rampant disease in modern societies,” according to Arthur Schafer. Not only that, but it is one of the most dangerous diseases our world has ever faced.

Particularly where an issue is complex, such as Covid-19, or a complex election, it is very easy to confuse people. We are not a skeptical rational society, even though our very capacity to survive, not just flourish, is dependent upon our diligently, conscientiously, and thoughtfully looking at evidence to support our beliefs.

As a result Schafer concluded said those who feel a liberal tolerance to those who espouse superstitious or irrational beliefs (beliefs that are not supported by evidence) have got it wrong. “It is not permissible to believe whatever makes you feel good,” says Schafer. It is ethically wrong. And we ought to be willing to say so. According to Schafer those who take the attitude that it is permissible to believe whatever makes one feel good is sort of like stealing. “Such beliefs are equivalent to stealing from your fellow citizens by making yourself credulous.” says Schafer. That weakens society and we all suffer as a result.

We have to remember that giving up reason and evidence, as the only valid basis for beliefs, is not just unwise it is dangerous. If we base beliefs on sacred texts, authority, or wishful thinking we can come to believe absurdities. Voltaire got it right when he said, “Those who make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Perhaps a better current example, might be, those who can make you believe an absurdity can make you believe that the coronavirus is not dangerous.

We have to remember that irrational beliefs can have very serious consequences. We should not do anything to encourage them. We ought to do everything we can to stamp them out. We should be cultivating a spirit of questioning, of careful scrutiny of evidence, of diligent searching for the best and most reliable evidence, and of conscientious analysis of arguments based on evidence. We should listen to experts, but do so critically, not with blind acceptance. We should do everything we can to foster critical thinking for it is in such horribly short supply and our lives depend on it. If we could not see that before we can certainly see that in the midst of an international pandemic. That’s why it is unethical to believe without evidence. The rational life is the ethical life. The superstitious life is based on moral flaws. We should choose the ethical life.

The Ethics of Belief


In the United States Covid-19 has become the leading cause of death in adults. In other words, it causes more deaths than heart disease. What is really disappointing about that is that we could have done much better, had we paid more attention to science instead of theories without a sound evidentiary basis. Why do we do that?

We should know by now that when times get tough our best instrument at our disposal is usually critical thinking. At such times we need to weigh the evidence and data carefully, apply our best reasoning powers, set aside our prejudices and biases, and reach the best conclusion we can in the circumstances. We must ignore faith, feelings, instincts, guesses, hunches, and most important wishes. We live in a society where this is not commonly done. People usually prefer the opposite approach. This is particularly true in the United States, but it is true everywhere.

A while ago I learned from a University of Manitoba philosophy professor, Arthur Schafer, about the dangers of this approach. He said there is such a thing as the ethics of belief. Schafer in turn based his theory on what he had learned from a 19th century English philosopher by the name of William Kingdon Clifford. I had never heard of  him before.

Clifford argued, that to believe anything because it comforts you, or makes you feel good, or sustains you in life, or makes life a little less intolerable, is not just epistemically wrong, not just intellectually wrong, but actually one of the worst crimes that you can commit. It is a travesty and has some horrible consequences. We will get to those. According to Clifford this is a morally wrong. As Schafer agreed saying,

“ when we believe things because they make us feel good, rather than because we have good evidence for them, Clifford argues that we make ourselves credulous people.”


That is wicked according to Clifford and Schafer. If we are credulous people we can easily believe stories—like the story that Covid-19 was deliberately produced by Bill Gates in order to gain control of our minds and make profit by selling a vaccine entirely without evidence. Or we can believe that the end of the pandemic is “around the corner,” even though there is no evidence to support that belief. Or we can believe that the recent American election was stolen by evil Democrats despite the fact that there is no credible evidence to support the claim. If we are credulous we can believe anything because it makes us feel good. And that is a very dangerous thing.


According to Schafer “our society which many of us think of as secular, is actually “impregnated with a lot of irrational superstitions.” Now Schafer puts all kinds of things into the category of irrational superstitions such as religious beliefs. All of them. Now I know many of my readers will not accept that. I don’t want to tackle those beliefs now. Save that for another day. But I do want to tackle the beliefs people have had about Covid-19 entirely without evidence to back them up.

We have tolerated those beliefs. Often we have smiled at them or even mocked them. We have had such an easy target in the White House. We have had another easy target here in Steinbach with the crazy beliefs held by the nearby Reeve of the Rural Municipality of La Broquerie. Or the nearby Church of God Restoration. These are not beliefs we should tolerate. I have criticized them, but my criticism have been much too timid.

This is the attitude of tolerance. This is a liberal good—a very high good at that. Usually. But it is not acceptable in times of a serious health pandemic. Usually, we tolerate the fact that others have irrational beliefs. We tolerate that they believe any kind of superstition no matter how nonsensical as long as they don’t try to impose it on us. This is not the time for tolerance. According to Schafer “there are no innocent beliefs.” That is because all beliefs have consequences.

Many liberals hold that I have the right to believe whatever I want, so long as I don’t harm anyone else. Schafer says that by believing irrational things we are exposing ourselves to serious potential harms. As long as we would harm only ourselves that might be acceptable. But by our actions we are also  exposing many others to serious harms  through our credulity. That we are not entitled to do. That is morally wrong.

According to Schafer,

“we should not believe anything except those propositions for which we have good evidence and that the confidence we place in our beliefs should be proportional to the amount of evidence that supports them.”

He says we have a moral duty to engage in the hard work of looking at science, or our own good work, in order to consult the best available evidence conscientiously and honestly before we commit to believing. We have to be open-minded. That means that we have to be willing to accept evidence that contradicts our cherished beliefs or those propositions we would really like to be true and we must be willing to discard or modify them if the evidence entails such actions. Only on that basis are we entitled to believe something. Only on that basis can a belief be ethical.

Schafer says that if we believe a statement without evidence because we want to believe that, we are conditioning the mind to do that again. It will then tend to believe another statement without evidence just because we want to believe it is true. This is really a kind of slippery slope argument. Credulity leads to ever more credulity. It is not possible to sequester such beliefs in order to avoid contamination. Contamination will follow inevitably from our acceptance of beliefs without evidence in one case. Our mind is so trained to think that this is acceptable.

Professor Schafer gave an interesting example from his experience as an ethics consultant with hospitals. If you accept beliefs, such as religious beliefs, without evidence, you are more likely to believe that you should let their children die rather than giving them a needed blood transfusion. I don’t know if it’s true, but I was told the members of the Church of God Restoration don’t believe in modern medicine, trusting instead, without evidence, that God will take care of them. One irrational belief leads to another and that other may be seriously harmful.

This is what has happened with regard to Covid-19. The minds of too many people had been trained to accept irrational beliefs and hence misinformation has spread through our countries and disarmed people from looking instead at the actual evidence and taking reasonable precautions based on the best evidence.