19 June 2020

Hard reality

I've long believed that everybody, as part of their education, should be required to take an introductory class in engineering or some similar subject which would drive home the fact that there is a "solid", objective, immutable reality out there which is totally unaffected by human feelings and beliefs about it.  Far too many people fail to grasp this point.  They judge scientific findings or medical advice not by the evidence supporting them, but by how they feel about them or by what ideological slant they associate with the people announcing them.

Reality doesn't work like that.  For example, evolution happened.  It doesn't matter if some people find this depressing or feel that it makes life seem pointless.  It doesn't matter what holy books or traditional beliefs say.  It doesn't matter if it has disturbing implications for morality or society.  Evolution happened.  The real-world evidence from anatomy and from the fossil record, and above all from molecular biology, says so.  That's the only thing that's relevant to establishing whether the theory of evolution is true.

Physics describes how the universe actually works.  Mysticism, religion, "spirituality", and the various other forms of vague gobbledygook do not.  Airplanes designed according to human knowledge of physics actually fly.  Space probes launched along trajectories based on human knowledge of physics actually reach the target planet at the time and velocity intended.  Huge, complex electrical power generation and transmission systems built according to human knowledge of physics actually deliver electricity exactly as they are meant to do.  None of the fake "other ways of knowing" gives us such clear, verifiable, measurable results in the real world.

This has become a serious practical problem for our country's response to the covid-19 pandemic because much of the right wing has decided that precautions such as masks, social distancing, and lockdowns are markers of political tribal identity.  To them, adhering to such practices is not a pragmatic effort to minimize danger, but evidence of one's membership in the secular left.  Such delusions come naturally to the religion-dominated mind.  After generations of being taught to disregard or deny evidence in order to reject the theory of evolution, and instead interpret the theory as an ideological assault on religion, it was easy to apply the same response pattern to anthropogenic global warming, and then to anything else that came along.  The end result is a mental state insulated from the real world, in which every new assertion is judged not by whether the evidence supports it, but by whether it is being asserted by "our side" or by the Godless libtards.

The problem is that reality is unaffected by such attitudes.  The pandemic does not care whether somebody believes it's a hoax or not.  The laws of physics that govern the trajectory of infectious micro-droplets when somebody coughs do not care why the person isn't wearing a mask.  Amidst a group of people, the virus does not care whether the gathering is a church service or a BLM rally or a Trump rally.  It simply spreads to new hosts more or less easily depending on whether certain objective conditions are met, as impersonally as a magnet jumps toward a bar of iron if you bring it close enough.

When human behavior is based on beliefs which conflict with objective reality, there are consequences:
Compared with Americans, Europeans tend to be somewhat better educated -- but far more importantly, most European societies lack a large sub-population of highly-religious people equivalent to our fundamentalists, and are more culturally predisposed to respect science and expertise.

The difference is not just one of conflicting values or opinions.  It's about accepting or rejecting reality.  And sooner or later, it becomes a matter of life and death.


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

It's incredibly depressing that people think their feelings or beliefs affect reality. It's the fucking XXI century! It's especially astounding now that trusting science has become a matter of life or death. That thousands of people have gotten sick because somebody thinks a pandemic has to do with faith or god or party lines is astoundingly stupid. And reckless.
I just can't with stupid people. Can't.


19 June, 2020 02:31  
Blogger One Fly said...

And they are soooo proud of their ignorance. Yes I do believe in science and the like.

So I believe there will be huge ramifications from this trump fuckery tomorrow.

Grab a chair.

19 June, 2020 05:39  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

Yep, one of my brother's is one of those people who thinks this pandemic is blown way out of proportion and that masks and handwashing won't do anything. The crazy thing is my brother is a retired CNA (certified nurses assistant) and retired firefighter/EMT. You would think he would know better.

19 June, 2020 09:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very good article, and I liked it. However, I believe that the analysis is incomplete.

I remember hearing a prediction about COVID-19: if the virus hurts people of color more than it hurts whites, the right wing will stop caring about it. Worse, there will be people who want the virus to keep killing people because many of the victims will be Black or Hispanic.

According to this NPR article , structural racism results in COVID-19 killing more minorities than chance would indicate. "[W]hile disproportionately black counties account for only 30% of the U.S. population, they were the location of 56% of COVID-19 deaths."

Blacks don't make up 30% of the U.S. population. Who are the whites living in these counties? To get to 30%, we need urban counties with many people - so the whites there are predominantly Democrats. For many right-wingers, this is a feature, not a bug.

I think most Republican leaders are accepting reality here. It's just that "a pragmatic effort to minimize danger" isn't their goal.


19 June, 2020 11:29  
Blogger Lady M said...

Well said - I have been thinking the same myself. When a portion of our populous rejects science and fails to deal head on with the problems of reality, we end up with a shit show. But their denial of this pandemic endangers all of us. I wear a mask to protect others but they cannot show me the same consideration. Disgusting.

19 June, 2020 14:32  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: Oddly, this "reality is determined by our feelings" thing feels more New-Age than Christian to me, but it figures the people with the greatest emotional need to deny reality would adopt it.

One Fly: Yes, it will be amazing if there's not a huge spike in infections in Tulsa in two or three weeks, and in other places that attendees returned to. Whether the Trumpanzees will learn anything, who knows.

Mary: It's weird, but even for people with education in these subjects, ideology can sometimes trump reality.

Sam: My focus was really on the reality-is-mutable delusion itself -- I just used wingnut attitudes about covid-19 as an example, though obviously it's an important one right now. Also, I was talking more about ordinary rank-and-file Trumpanzees, not Republican leaders.

Lady M: I doubt the situation in the US will improve much until there's a vaccine, thanks to them. Even then, many of them have further paranoid fantasies at the ready about the vaccine, and will refuse to use it.

19 June, 2020 15:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! I've been saying for a while that you can't bullshit a virus, so of course Trump and his gang have been persistently, and in my opinion - criminally, bullshitting this thing with the inevitable results literally piling up.

19 June, 2020 16:24  
Blogger Ami said...

"Far too many people fail to grasp this point. They judge scientific findings or medical advice not by the evidence supporting them, but by how they feel about them or by what ideological slant they associate with the people announcing them."

We've had this discussion here at home over the past few months.

I liken it to how I watch weather reports. I look at the report on several different channels as well as the weather app on my phone. I don't like the heat, so if one report says 84 and another says 88, I go with the 84 'cause that's what I want to hear.

I have a broad swath of humanity in my family. Many of them are on FB. There are actual scientists in the mix. One of my husband's stepbrothers keeps sharing that damn 'plandemic' thing. Tonight he told me that 'only Democrat' states are having the huge outbreaks because 'the Republican states aren't falling for the hoaxes from the media'.

And he believes that Bill Gates is going to inject us all with tracking devices, that there isn't actually a huge outbreak, that's all just media hype so he can get us all with those trackers.

Guess I need to block him again.

19 June, 2020 20:50  
Blogger Charles Watkins said...

To be fair, we've been seeing a lot of bad science lately. Replication studies keep coming up blank and the peer review process has been politicized. So some skepticism on sudden announcements in the popular media is certainly warranted. Those looking for reasons to doubt scientific findings can easily find them. And there's always someone ready to cash in by taking a contrary position, making it a question of who to believe.

I think the solution is for people to know more about science. I'm looking at you, education system.

20 June, 2020 07:33  
Blogger The New York Crank said...

Alas, teaching True Believers engineering — or for that matter, logic, or any other form of critical thinking — will not alter their opinions one iota.

E=I/R? Yeah, because God wants it that way, for now. But he could change it, and punish you for permitting gay marriage by melting the electric wires in your house, blowing out your computer and your TV, and setting your roof on fire.

There are still people who think the earth is flat. And who think they can debunk any evidence to the contrary. As for those men who walked on the moon? We all know it was a moon in a Tee-Vee studio, now don't we?

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

20 June, 2020 09:05  
Blogger Mike said...

I have several friends that are diehard right-wingers. They post stuff straight from RW media. Then I send them or post the real facts. It's doesn't convince them. They think Snoops etc. are all left-wing outlets. Do the left-wingers need some correcting? Sure they do. But the ratio is skewed to the right by a large margin. Like 1 to 1000.

20 June, 2020 09:07  
Blogger Lady M said...

Oh you are so right about a vaccine - the Trumpanezes will refuse it, citing some nutty conspiracy theory about mind control or other unproved nonsense. I long for the good old days when people trusted knowledge over superstition.

20 June, 2020 13:41  
Blogger jenny_o said...

Why IS there such a large fundamentalist population in the US? I'll have to do some reading when my eyes aren't so tired.

Here science courses are mandatory to graduate from high school. I would have thought they're mandatory everywhere. As much as I agree with you that kids need to be taught about how things work, I fear The New York Crank is right in saying it wouldn't ultimately make a difference.

Some days I just want to crawl under the covers and never come out.

20 June, 2020 15:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon: Thanks! They say you can't fool "mother nature", and viruses are nature personified.

Ami: Sounds depressingly familiar. Most red states weren't hit hard at first because they're generally more rural and disease spreads most easily in cities, because of the density. But they'll end up worse off because they refuse to take precautions.

Charles: Skepticism about MSM stories on science is always a good idea -- they're generally written by people who don't really understand science.

Crank: Well, it couldn't hurt to try. And it's not just the wingnuts. The New Age types could benefit from it too.

Mike: That's how the conspiratard mind works. No amount of contrary evidence can convince them -- it just "proves" how vast the supposed cover-up of the "truth" is.

Lady M: The anti-vax thing is worrisome. All over the world, highly-religious populations have had outbreaks of polio and suchlike diseases because they refuse vaccines. Perhaps they'll serve as reservoirs of covid-19 as well.

Jenny_o: It's an interesting question why the US lags behind most other developed countries in moving away from religion. Part of it is that many of the original settlers were members of persecuted religious minorities from Europe -- people who will leave their own country rather than just change religions tend to be very strong believers. Also, I suspect the huge size of the US and its relative geographical isolation have slowed down the spread of new ideas. Things can change, though. Ireland used to be the most solidly religious country in Europe, and look at it now.

21 June, 2020 04:12  
Anonymous Sam240 said...

"Also, I was talking more about ordinary rank-and-file Trumpanzees, not Republican leaders."

Fair enough.

"highly-religious populations have had outbreaks of polio and suchlike diseases because they refuse vaccines"

Polio is a bad example. The only countries where polio remains in the wild are Afghanistan and Pakistan. Progress was made there until 2011, when the CIA ran a fake vaccination campaign as part of a plot against al-Qaeda.

I also checked on last year's Philippines measles outbreak. The decrease in vaccination can be traced to the Dengvaxia mess. Dengvaxia, which was released without adequate testing, was supposed to protect against dengue fever, which comes in four strains. Dengvaxia worked among people who had survived at least one strain, but it increased the risk of severe symptoms among children who had never had dengue fever before.

Disease outbreaks and religious populations are linked in the United States, so you deserve credit there, but that's not the case worldwide.

21 June, 2020 12:59  
Blogger Tommykey said...

The weird thing is that coronavirus should have played into one of Trump's greatest strengths and common reflexes, the desire to keep bad things and bad people out of America. Once told in private by his advisors of the potential damage and loss of life that could be caused by COVID-19, he could have easily addressed his followers telling them "When I ran for president, I promised to keep you safe. COVID-19 is a threat to the people of the United States, so in order to keep you all safe, I am going to have to take the harsh but necessary step of banning international travel into the United States until such time as I deem it safe to reopen our borders."

The Trumpanzees would have lapped it up and gone along with him. I can only guess that because it is an election year and his campaign centered on him having made our economy "the best in history!", he didn't want to do anything to jeopardize that. Maybe he thought he would get lucky and the death toll would be minimal.

21 June, 2020 14:00  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sam: Polio was almost wiped out until an anti-vaccine campaign in Nigeria, largely led by Islamic clergy, enabled it to spring back. Since then, Islamist opposition to vaccination has been the main force keeping the disease going, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are plenty of other examples of religious opposition to vaccination leading to disease outbreaks, both in the US and elsewhere; I've linked to stories about these in the link round-ups over the years.

21 June, 2020 15:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Tommykey: That's occurred to me too. He could so easily have exploited this in ways that played to his strengths and his base's obsessions. He never seems to have realized that. I guess he really is stupid.

21 June, 2020 15:32  
Blogger Tommykey said...

Good post. I wasn't reading blogs very much last month so I missed that one at the time. One of the commenters brought up the Norman Vincent Peale thing which jibes with one of my observations of Trump, that his lies are primarily directed at himself. He has to believe in his own mind that he is the smartest, the most successful, the best looking, etc. so he filters out anything that threatens that view of himself.

21 June, 2020 16:14  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

There's no one more foolish than a liar who comes to believe his own lies.....

23 June, 2020 15:36  

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