*

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The socialism bogeyman frightens a lot of people

What exactly is socialism and why should we fear it? First, it is democratic socialism that most of the West's left-wing politicians embrace. According to the World Population Review, a democratic socialist believes that the government should provide a range of essential services to the public for free or at a significant discount, such as health care and education. 

Unlike socialists, democratic socialists do not believe the government should control everything. Government should only provide support for basic needs and help all of its citizens have an equal chance of success. Democratic socialists are committed to democracy and so are guided by an adherence to democratic principles.

Doesn't sound so bad, does it? So, why are so many folk so frightened by the term? Right-wing lies. It is that simple. Think of the term cancel culture. The Republicans in the States have managed to brand the Democrats with the term. Yet, it was the Republicans who tried to upend the 2020 presidential election, toss out millions of legitimate votes, and shove their candidate back into power in a very undemocratic power play. Now, that is cancel culture.

What countries have democratic socialist parties and, in some cases, democratic socialist governments? The following are but a few.

  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France 
  • Germany
  • Iceland
  • Italy 
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Northern Ireland
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom 

The following is from World Population Review

Scandinavian countries are often touted as democratic socialist paradises. Sweden is a great example. It has a free-market economy, meaning that the government interferes very little in business. There are very few business regulations, particularly regarding workers; in fact, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries do not have minimum wages for their workers.

In Sweden the government offers school vouchers to all children. The government will pay for school wherever the parents decide to send the children. The children can go to schools run by religious institutions or those run by the government. If parents add some extra money to the pot, they can send their children to more expensive private schools, as well.

Swedish workers do pay more in taxes than workers in non-socialist countries, like the United States. The reason they do so is so that the government has money for generous social services, including maternity and paternity leave for new parents and the school voucher system. There is also more income equality in Scandinavian countries than in the United States.

However, Sweden is not a “pure” socialist country. It has a free-market economy with very few government regulations, something that is a capitalist’s dream. Perhaps the lesson from Sweden is that both socialism and capitalism can co-exist. Now, does that sound so bad?

Then there is Finland. The land of compassionate capitalism. Finland has a free-market economy with minimal government regulation and interference. The government supplies free schooling, including college, for all students and generous maternity and paternity leave for new parents. Healthcare will not bankrupt someone living in Finland.

The last democratic socialist country we will look at is Denmark. Denmark is probably more capitalist than the United States. Its government encourages businesses to run solely on market principles rather than government policies. Additionally, it has better rates of healthcare, education, and social security than many other capitalist countries because the high tax rates create a redistribution of wealth in the form of social programs. 

One caveat: There are concerns that Denmark’s social programs are unsustainable. In the coming decades, substantial changes may be necessary and the social programs may suffer. Time will tell.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Don't blame Jesus. Blame Southern Baptists!

The United States is a democracy. Donald Trump gained power because enough wrong-thinking individuals voted for the man. What has troubled me right from the beginning of his march to the White House was the support Trump received from Christians, especially from the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist group in the U.S.

Donald Trump terrifies me. He also terrifies my wife. Years before Trump's fascism was evident to all, my wife saw through him. For her it was easy, but then she didn't have Jesus blocking her view. Quoting scripture many Southern Baptists saw Trump as the right man for the time. Without the support of the SBC, Trump would never have been elected.

Their mistake, one among many, is seeing the Bible as the instruction manual for life. Got a problem? Turn to God. How? Read the Bible. What a huge, unfair burden to heap on the Good Book. There's a pastor of a London-area church who refuses to follow covid-19 restrictions. He likes to do the-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin as he defends his position. When it comes to stuff like this, my dance card is full. I'd tell him to get on board, make his God proud and do the right thing: wear a mask, practise social distancing and wash your hands.

But taking a wrong-headed message from the Good Book is not new. I encountered this more than sixty years ago when some Bible-thumping, God-fearing folk tried to frighten me into joining their Christian movement with talk of the end-times and the rapture. These were two ideas that even a ten-year-old could see through. The emperor had no cloths, as they say. For a deeper discussion of these two crazy ideas, still sadly making the rounds, read my essay: The Rapture Is Back. Did It Ever Leave?

More and more, people are comparing Donald Trump to Hitler. I think these people are missing the true comparison to be made: Trump's followers compared to Hitler's. Without followers, these two would just be two lonely lunatics. Mean, nasty lunatics. Two hate-filled crazies. One has to add followers to the mix and then, and only then, does all hell break out.

All I the preceding is but a lead up to the following link, a link to a post written by Rebecca Hamilton, a well known pro-life supporter: People Who Stubbornly Follow the Gospels are the Faithful Remnant in the Time of Trump. (I try to check my links. The linked story is a bit strong in language but overall it expresses my fears rather well. But the Patheos site that is hosting Hamilton's post is not to be trusted without careful checking of claims. Be warned.)

I'm going to end this with a short quote from Hamilton's post.

Trump has exposed a lot of things we never wanted to see, and many of us didn’t think were true. 

He has shown us the sheer stupidity of a lot of people. The easy way he has duped people that we’ve known and loved all our lives into believing, supporting and echoing his blatant lies, misogyny and racism has been, to say the least, demoralizing for the rest of us. 

People we love, people we’ve looked up to and trusted, have demonstrated that they are at best easily deluded fools, and at worst, hypocritical phonies. They either don’t believe a lot of the things they have said they believe, or their discernment and judgement are seriously flawed. 

At the same time, our religious leaders, whose discernment and judgement we have been taught to trust without questioning, have demonstrated a callous disregard for the plain teachings of the Scriptures that they claim they represent. This disregard of the Gospels is such an absolute display of faithlessness that it is both breathtaking in its arrogance and faith-challenging for those of us who trusted these men and their leadership.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Trump kicked the stuffing out of my world and I'm mad.

 Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Creative Commons Image)

My wife wisely recognizes a fascist when she sees one. She always took the Trump threat seriously. While everyone from opinion piece writers to pollsters were assuring us that the American public would never elect Donald Trump, a second-rate reality show entertainer, my wife was telling me to be worried. Very worried. He might win; He might be President, she told me.

All that is now history. Four years of a Donald Trump presidency has changed me. Trump, and the world's reaction to him, has left me shocked, appalled, sadden, frightened . . . You get the idea. If not, the following tale should put all into perspective.

 

The other night I caught the end of The Bourne Ultimatum on television. On-the-run CIA agent Jason Bourne is giving CIA Deputy Director Pam Landy incriminating evidence that discloses the depth of perversity infecting the CIA. The disease had a name: Treadstone.

Landy is able to fax the top secret Treadstone files to someone outside the agency and the whole sordid mess becomes a public embarrassment for the U.S. At the end of the movie Landy is testifying before the Senate. Today we know how that might go, and it is not good.

The men behind Treadstone believed in what they were doing, as wrong and evil as it was. Many of the senators, Landy discovers, are more in tune with the goals of Treadstone than with Landy. The senators critically question Landy, a huge television network attacks Landy with numerous, blatant lies. The network with the support of a network of extreme Christians successfully cast doubt on her motives . 

In the end, Landy must go into hiding to evade a trial for treason. After all, she did disclose highly sensitive Top Secret information and she never claimed otherwise. Influenced by lie-peddling radio and television talk show hosts, half the American public wants to see Landy executed and the President has threatened to do just that if she is ever found.

 

I see the world differently today. And I feel foolish. Naive. I was born just two years after the end of the Second World War. I was raised with the memory of a very real Hitler lurking in the shadows. Many of my friends only lived in Canada because their families were seeking a new life in a new country after their lives had been shattered by the war.

Trump rose to power partially by promising that he was the "law and order" candidate. Hitler's platform contained the "law and order" plank.

Which brings me to one of my biggest fears: religious folk. (I must note that religious folk did NOT play a big role in the ascension of Hitler.) Religious folk have always scared me a little. My Roman Catholic friends worried they would miss me after they died. They were going to heaven. The best I could achieve was limbo, or so I was told. My mom assured me that there was no limbo and I was destined for heaven, and for good measure, she said my friends were going to go there as well.

Then there were the fire and brimstone preachers. My earliest memories of of this approach to finding Christ was a chap shouting from my bedside radio with me under the covers fighting a fever-fueled, delusional bout of the measles. I had to follow the teachings of the Bible or face eternal damnation. I had a Bible and I had tried to read it. I knew I was doomed.

And lastly there were the End-Times and the Rapture-Is-Coming contingent of Christians. After attending a rally where these two subjects were the theme, I sought counseling from my Anglican minister. Forget it, he told me. It just isn't going to happen and, as we all know, he was right. (Well, not all. There are still those running around Chicken Little style warning that the end is nigh.)

Now, at the ripe, old age of 73, I've encountered the most fearful group of Christians ever: right-wing Baptists. And, I have a relative who posts stuff from these misguided believers. He assures me that he doesn't follow these deviants from the Christian faith but then why post stuff connected them? Why muddy your own Christian message?

Donald Trump is evil. This is axiomatic. My mom warned me: "Even Satan can quote scripture." When Pastor Josh Buice posts a piece headlined "Confessions of a #NeverTrump Christian Pastor and Why I Will Be Voting for Donald Trump," I cringe in fear.

Why does the pastor now support Trump? In his words, it is to fight "cancerous ideas" that are growing in America. Can one really imagine Christ fighting cancerous ideas by throwing his support behind a man filled to overflowing with cancerous ideas. 

Christ never hit me as a "Let's Make a Deal" kinda Guy. "You give me this and I'll let you get away with that," should not be at the core of one's Christian beliefs. I hate to tell you Pastor Buice but Satan has conned you. If there really is a heaven, we'll miss you.

If the pastor were alone in promoting this corruption of the Christian faith, it would be disconcerting but that's about all. But no, million of Christians are spouting the messages preached by the pastor. Elmer Gantry may need a rewrite. A new, bleaker ending, more in keeping with today, may be demanded.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Morgan Motors: More than a car company

A few years ago my wife and I attended the 50th anniversary party of the Morgan Sports Car Club of Canada. It was well run and well attended event but what else would one expect?

Asked to say a few words after dinner, I was honored. Given five minutes to reminisce, I was told to tell a good story, I took ten minutes and told a pretty poor tale. I apologize. The night deserved more. 

For those of you who don't know, Morgans are said to be the first and last of a long line of well respected English-made, traditional sports cars with most ending production in the middle of the last century.

Why is Morgan called first? Because it was founded in 1909. Need I say more? Why last? Unlike Austin Healey, MG, Triumph and the rest, new Morgans are still being made in Malvern Link, England. No longer exported to Canada because of an ongoing dispute with Transport Canada, today the Chinese are big buyers. Check the link: China Morgans.

If this post were just about a car company, admittedly a very old one, but still just a car company, there wouldn't be much else to say. But a Morgan is more than a car; a Morgan is an experience, a philosophy, a global fraternity, a magic carpet on wheels.

Before I bought my Morgan, I first drove a motorcycle and then, when I lost confidence in two wheels, I bought a car, a Volvo 122. The car was safer than the bike but oh-so-much duller. I hated my Volvo. My heart ached for my Honda 305 Super Hawk.

And then, in late December '68, the answer to my predicament appeared in the window of Metro Motors in Windsor, Ontario: A dark green Morgan Plus Four sat in the showroom.

There was only one hurdle blocking my path to ownership. Curly, the dealership owner, refused to sell me the car without first chatting with my mother. I was 21! But, Curly was firm. I lived with my mom and the Morgan would be the family car, a daily driver. 

Curly sought confirmation that my mom wanted to mother a car along with a young son. The answer was yes; Mom loved the little roadster. It brought back memories of the early thirties and the cars my father drove while courting her. Curly acquiesced, and he sold me the car. My mother did not disappoint. Her affection for the Morgan never wavered. In the spring, I rewarded her with a quick trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia, to visit her sister.

 

An Experience 

We left Windsor before daybreak and drove and drove and drove. We weren't rich; we weren't poor but we were wealth challenged. The trip was a gift to my mom. A reward. A treat.

A hotel room was a needless expense. It was, after all, a one day trip. When I got too tired to continue, we pulled into a rest stop and rested. I believe we reached my aunt's shortly after midnight.

I should mention that I had made a similar but shorter trip in the past. I had traveled by motorcycle from Athens, Georgia, to my Windsor home in one day. Leaving Athens at dawn, I had arrived home after midnight. Despite the fact that the Athens trip was shorter, it took almost as long. 

I had to stop and tighten the bike drive chain and later a foot rest vibrated loose. Finding it and all the parts was difficult in the dark. Outside of Toledo the headlamp died. I drove the last freeway miles tucked tightly into the illuminated space behind a transport truck. Tailgating may be dangerous but it's safer than speeding along a busy highway at night with no lights.

Driving a Morgan is an experience. It puts distance back into driving and it colours the experience with pleasure.

The rapture is back; did it ever leave?

It was the mid '50s when I first encountered the rapture, the belief that Jesus would do a beam-me-up-Scotty routine lifting his earthbound believers to heaven. It would be a now-you-see-me-now-you-don't moment. If you sense that I don't take it seriously, you're right.

It was in the '50s as a ten-year-old boy that I attended a rally where a discussion of the rapture played a central role. Afterwards I discussed the rapture with my Anglican minister -- a minister who went on to become a bishop. He assured me it was a hoax based on a misreading of biblical text.

In the early '70s I worked with some young men who lived each day waiting to be raptured and with joyful glee, I might add. One warned me, "If we are playing catch and you have to run to catch the ball, if you don't see me when you turn around, look up. I may be floating skyward. The rapture may be happening." I  didn't laugh. This was madness. And when the rapture didn't happen, I worried he might become violent. Would he hold the disbelievers like me responsible for the failure of the rapture?

It is now 2021 and some of my relatives are falling victim to the rapture story. I don't worry about them harming me when the rapture fails to come, and it will fail to come, just as it has for well over a century.

No, I worry about losing these relatives, of being ostracized for my lack of belief. I love them dearly and think very highly of them. To consider my life completely without them is a line of thought that leaves me very sad.

If they want to believe in the rapture, that's fine with me. As long as they are not making decisions today based on being raptured tomorrow, I'm comfortable with their beliefs. If my liver wasn't failing, I'd drink a toast to them and to the rapture. "God bless," I'd say. (I may be too generous.)

After I wrote the above I found this on a site maintained by The Johns Hopkins University:

No less a figure than President Jimmy Carter expressed contempt for the rapture. He refers to it in his book Keeping Faith. The Johns Hopkins paper calls the rapture a racket. And the paper chooses to quote Barbara R. Rossing, a Lutheran minister and educator, who wrote The Rapture Exposed. 

Paraphrasing Rossing and condensing some of her arguments: 

Believers in the Rapture are not only in error, but they are an obstacle to building God’s Kingdom on earth. These misguided believers anticipate miraculous rescue from the catastrophes associated with the end-times and thus they do not place enough importance on working to solve crucial issues such as pollution, crime, poverty, and war.  A belief in the rapture is dangerous for planet Earth.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The original posting is down. This my attempt at saving this essay by Nate White.

Image for post

The Question: “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?”

I normally don’t share political content; there are many other profiles and places for that. I‘ve also learnt not to engage in highly divisive political debates, however based on reality my input might be.

Put simply, there’s little to gain in preaching to the choir.

But then there’s Donald Trump. And like much of humanity, I’ve been aghast at his recent abhorrent and often child-like behaviour. It’s hard to watch from a distance and equally hard to remain silent. The antithesis of what a leader should be.

Just look at those ratings! Yes, they’re comparable to the COVID-19 statistics he so casually downplays.

At a time where clear, transparent leadership is desperately needed and most decent people show compassion and humility, his self-centred presidency has degenerated yet further. Every decision is always about him and his enablers, not the people they pretend to represent.

Crucial announcements on public health and COVID-19 mitigation are instead delivered as politically-motivated statements in a confusing string of oscillating sound bites, contradiction or absolute nonsense — no matter how irresponsible or dangerous.

Where a new normal is for any reference of suffering or death, no matter how personal and painful, to be met with deflection and another ramble about self-perceived greatness. And any critique, no matter how relevant and important, is rebuffed by insults, a refusal to answer, even a refusal to attend press conferences. Then, yet another tweet-storm.

Welcome to playground politics, but without detentions or naughty steps. We thought it couldn’t get any worse, but it just did. And then again and again and again.

But don’t worry, let’s all inject Dettol and insert UV-emitting suppositories. Or pop hydroxycloroquine pills like we’re blind drunk and they’re peanuts. Forget those 5G-nanobot-controlled experts, if Trump says it, it must be true. After all, he’s normally right.

Then suddenly it’s not true and he wasn’t right. And all manner of spin is employed as the Trump team work furiously to deflect the latest blunder; remoulding lies upon lies like Play Dough.

Oh that’s what he meant this time. Silly us!

Then there’s the stay-at-home protestors, where another new normal is to see medical professionals try to block their procession; or even a large group of military-attire-clad, semi-automatic-wielding bullies descend on a state capitol in an apparently “acceptable and peaceful protest”.

Because Trump isn’t just going to this conspiracy story lovefest, he’s driving the bus.

Which brings me to this: the most accurate description of Donald Trump I’ve read.

The Question and the Answer

The story begins in February last year, when someone on Quora asked ‘Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?’. Nate White, a copywriter from the UK, wrote this response:

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace — all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing — not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility — for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is — his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults — he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront. Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff — the Queensberry rules of basic decency — and he breaks them all. He punches downwards — which a gentleman should, would, could never do — and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless — and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority — perhaps a third — of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

• Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.

• You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss.

He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart. In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws — he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

[For Nate White’s other writings, see here.]

For some reason, the thread has since been deleted from Quora (perhaps overwhelmed with responses?). But a few people were inspired to preserve it on blogs and in other forms — like this, on social media.

Under one such post, someone suggests Nate White’s response is a typical disconnected, elitist or bourgeois response to a man who speaks for sections of society the upper middle-class disdain. That Trump bypasses the traditional media, which they control, and speaks directly to these people. And that Nate White’s response only serves to alienate them further.

But please share it on. For all those of any social class, race, ethnicity, nationality, creed, sex or sexuality who loath him, his politics and his disinformation.

Trumpism: Many More Questions than Answers

While Nate’s brilliant response describes Trump to a tee, the ‘some people‘ part of ‘Why do some British people not like Trump?‘ doesn’t sit well with the ‘not like Trump‘ part. Kind of like the dissonance between two crunching keys on a keyboard.

Multiple past surveys in fact put the proportion of Brits who have any confidence in Trump at under one third — a figure that may well have fallen since. Half even think he’s outright dangerous. Male, female, right-wing, left-wing, pro- or anti-Brexit, many people in Britain generally dislike Trump.

It’s a sentiment widely reflected around the world, as described by research such as this. So, the question Why does so much of humanity dislike Trump? seems somewhat more appropriate. And besides Nate’s character description, there are numerous reasons.

For example, should we really be having regular debates about what a president actually said? Is clear, transparent communication not one of the cornerstones of leadership and democracy?

Of course. But while no amount of spin can change what Trump and his team imply, a bucket-load of ignorance, whether wilful or not, will twist it into whatever some people want to believe — or are able to believe.

Anyone who blows the truth whistle or doesn’t toe exactly the same partisan line is ignored, bullied or fired. Democracy and free speech then become heavily influenced by disinformation, deflection, threats and a blinkered, singular narrative, thus rendering them almost meaningless.

But why does this so readily happen?

For starters, there’s the Dunning-Kruger effect, which I’ve mentioned numerous times in recent weeks. It’s a form of cognitive bias that partially explain how conspiracy stories might arise. A good explanation of this and other cognitive biases is given by Dan Pupius here. But in short: If someone lacks the competence to identify their own incompetence, it can give them false sense of capability, wisdom or intellectual superiority. Or as William Shakespeare wrote:

“The fool thinks himself to be wise, while a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Various studies have also found a negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence, with those more susceptible to strong religious views tending to have lower levels of intelligence. Because intelligent people are more likely to resist religious dogma than conform, to adopt an analytic thinking style that undermine religious beliefs, and have less need for the comfort, security and self-enhancement others may gain from religious beliefs and practices.

This doesn’t mean all religious people are inherently stupid. There are many people who have less strong or progressive religious beliefs, freely acknowledging that the Bible, for example, and any literal interpretation of it are beyond outdated and meaningless. Some are even good scientists. They just have faith in some greater, divine power and a true origin behind certain religious scriptures. Something that neither science nor the mental and physical capacity of humans may ever be able to prove or disprove.

But there is a correlation. And not surprisingly, it then follows that God believers are more susceptible to conspiracy theories. Conspiracists believe deeply in unseen causal forces, drawing comfort and a sense of agency from their beliefs. Just as someone might from faith in a god.

To a certain degree, we’re all susceptible to various cognitive biases, no matter our beliefs, faith or partisan affiliation. In-group bias leads us to more likely trust people like us — within our group, team, profession, and so on. Similarly, confirmation bias is the tendency to look for or see only evidence that confirms what we already believe.

Vulnerability to such bias means we’re more likely to dismiss the studies or views of an expert because they don’t belong to our group or contradict a tribal belief; or equally, to accept those studies or beliefs without proper evaluation because they do.

Science can be wrong and it’s well documented many medical studies have significant flaws. That’s why meta reviews of multiple randomised-controlled trials are the gold standard. Media are also responsible for distortion or sensationalism when it comes to reporting on science. A brilliant, in-depth account of this is given in the book Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, and this article discusses the reasons why so many people doubt science.

But much of our modern world has been built on the incremental advancement of scientific knowledge. So, it’s implausible — at least, to most people — to believe that a large proportion of the global scientific community would unite with political leaders of every ilk and from all corners of the world to manufacture some sort of hoax. And apparently do it so badly that even a child would be able to identify the data that “supports” these wild claims.

Many things are simply not open for debate — they’re just facts. Biology is rooted in the principles of evolution. Vaccines save many lives. Climate change is really happening. And now, COVID-19 is having a devastating impact around the world.

For some people, ignorance or bias — or lack of education or intelligence — may be less significant in recognising scientific facts and forming fundamental belief systems. Research has shown people who tend towards schizotypal, Machiavellianistic and primary psychopathic personalities are also more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.

Such people may even be remarkably intelligent, but the intrinsic workings of their brains means they follow unusual patterns of thinking and behaviour, may be strategic and manipulative, and display social and emotional deficits. Their innate or acquired tendency for magical thinking means they see patterns in information that simply aren’t there.

They want others to see these ‘facts’ too, be they aliens living among us or the indisputable flatness of the Earth. And, unfortunately, their intelligence and ability to convincingly communicate their ideas makes them seem more credible, enabling them to reach and manipulate susceptible individuals, propagate their theories and become leaders of conspiratorial communities and cults.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, cognitive bias when coupled with online social connections, algorithms and automation form very large echo chambers — or filter bubbles.

Since we only see information we want to see and find believable, and everyone in our social circles — in person or online — seemingly holds the same views, it can become almost unfathomable that any credible opposing view can exist.

This not only validates and reinforces long-held beliefs, it also allows for the rapid dissemination of disinformation. Especially when sponsored by dark elements through carefully manipulated multi-million propaganda campaigns.

Think Steve Bannon, Fox News, ONAN and Newsmax, the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, Scientology and certain other religious groups, the NRA. Think of QAnon or the numerous Trump supporters who already belonged to cult-like groups before his candidacy even became a thing.

Side Note: it just occurred to me that Trump 2020 can be written as 1+1 0 1+1 0 or simply 110110… 110110… 110110…

With the skewed understanding of reality that results from believing disinformation and misinformation, like perceiving real-world events through a cracked and fogged lens, the gap between fundamentally opposing ideologies — perhaps one more egalitarian and communitarian and the other more individualistic and hierarchical — becomes a chasm.

All this forms the perfect storm and enables Trump and his sponsors to pander only to his most partisan supporters with whatever they want to hear — or he wants them to hear, even if it’s complete fabrication. Everyone else is simply the enemy and everything else is labelled as “fake news”. It’s always “us and them”. Trying to have a meaningful debate with these people just draws on extreme cognitive bias and leads to further alienation.

And so a cult of personality is born. The Dear Leader posing as some divine, all-powerful saviour, always speaking the truth, always working to defeat the manufactured enemy.

It’s information warfare, an arms race between fact-based journalism and demagoguery, between critical thinking and click-bait, between reality and fiction. At the mere touch of a seemingly harmless “Tweet”, “Post” or “Share” button, with or without malicious intent, the fallout can reach every corner of the globe in seconds like no weapon has ever done before.

Pseudo-political leaders and conspiracists are living in their golden age — a disinformation bonanza.

So, what about those armed stay-at-home protestors? Why? (Just why?)

Because it makes them feel more powerful. They have nothing of substance to add to any debate — nor the ability to do so, so they have to resort to threatening behaviour.

What they will never be able to realise (lack of intelligence, Dunning-Kruger or personality quirks and deficits)— as they’re too long and too far influenced by their klan (in-group bias) and political dogma (confirmation bias) — is: they are the problem, not the solution.

COVID-19 mitigation versus welfare is a major issue around the world, particularly in lower-income communities and countries. I’ve posted about the situation in Thailand here, for example. But most ordinary people can also recognise that as soon as you don military attire and pick up an assault weapon to push your ‘peaceful’ argument, you’ve lost the debate.

Social distancing is not about us as individuals, our freedom or some antiquated constitution written by musket-carrying forefathers. It’s about the impact our behaviour might have on the health of others.

It’s about recognising that with freedom comes certain responsibilities. And as soon as someone is willing to flout those responsibilities, steps must be taken to protect other people.

But Trump and his team continue to send mixed messages to incite these protestors, selectively criticise Democratic governors, fuel conspiracy stories, deflect blame and attempt to win cheap political points.

Or to put it another way, even during a global health crisis, Trump and his team will continue to single-mindedly target the cognitive and partisan bias of his supporters with what’s-in-it-for-me propaganda and lies.