shame evading variants

the new propaganda strains are gonna be real doozies

if we’ve learned one thing over the course of the last year, it’s that almost no one really reads the data. no one reads the studies, assesses the methodology, or checks the math. just about nobody no one goes back and checks the record or checks the facts.

sorry, but it’s true.

public opinion is not shaped from the bottom up by millions of people going out to get the facts, study them, and decide what they mean so they they can develop considered opinions. it’s just not how humans work. it never was.

people do not choose leaders based on data. they choose data based on leaders. your team has a hymnal, and you sing from it. this is, obviously, not true of all people, but it’s true of most. more dangerously, it’s true of enough that the rest barely register in terms of public opinion.

and this is how propaganda works. it does not need to make sense. it does not need basis in fact. it does not matter if the “facts” it cites are invented from whole cloth and the studies upon which it relies are dumpster fires of bad data and worse methodology.

it just has to provide pretext for allegiance.

that’s how you get the cottage industry of garbage studies that have been cropping up to support it. no one trusts simple media assertion, so you gin up some “scienceiness” and publish a pre-print that 2 pals “peer-reviewed” for you and feed the tailor made conclusions to reporters to grandstand with.

this is never going to sway anyone who has really dug into the data. it’s not for that. this is not for refuting carefully arrived at conclusions. this is for waving around and claiming you were right all along, preaching to the choir, and shoring up your hardcore base.

this is about creating some “science” for your side so you can keep claiming you were on the side of science.

bespoke to suit the client’s needs; neat as marionettes dancing upon purse strings: brand new systems of science, made to measure.

it’s not supposed to work on the people who disagree with you. it’s to prevent the people who are already on your side from listening to the people who disagree with you. you cannot give them nothing. you have to give them something.

propagandistic science is a talisman to protect them from conversion to other ideas and other data, an inoculation to bind to the receptors that might allow people to change their minds.

it’s terrible science.

it’s worse ethics.

but it’s GREAT propaganda.

wow. just wow. here’s a strongly shame evading variant. not only did this NPI known not to work work, but it also failed to harm economies as literally everyone said it would. this is some truly A+ nonsense in staggering opposition to the facts to try to carve out not just some, but ALL of the high ground. no pesky cost/benefit debate here. that’s for losers.

you can have your cake, eat it too, and still be a hero.

the point of such grandiose claims is not to prove anything. it’s to engage in vapid moralizing by unfounded assertion to prevent people from having to think deeply about one simple question:

“of course we’re not! look, this handy wavable pretext from some vaguely authority looking figure says so!”

great propaganda is like good hypnotism: you’re helping people do what they wanted to do anyway. you’re making them the good guys.

and it’s not a coincidence that it’s heating up now as the case for lockdowns has fallen to pieces, places that have opened have had no ill effects, and the economic and social damage gets ever more clear and divergent among the locked down vs the left alone. they need to shore up faith because even the remotely critically thinking are currently starting to wonder “wow, was this all a lie?”

you need to lock your team into “knowing” it wasn’t and there’s no better way than making them feel like heroes if they just believe.

even american federation of teachers head randi weingarten, the literal darth vader of education who has relentlessly and ruthlessly opposed school opening at every turn is suddenly all smiles and joy to see the beaming faces of children again because “we worked so hard to get them back.”

this is like watching fidel castro extol the success of the cubans who successfully fled to america and acting like he helped build the rafts.

it’s not going to get more shameless than this. (pro tip: yeah, it probably will.)

i’m sure we can find 50 other examples of the new shame evading variants of viral propaganda in 90 seconds on twitter. here’s a gem: ignore real, randomized controlled studies, publish a “model” based purely on assumptions that “proves” masks work because it assumed they do in its parameters, and off you go! perfect for waving around and keeping the faithful mollified. (though, in fairness, this variant has been in wide circulation for some time)

i read this “study.” it’s pure circular logic. all it shows is that model output is a function of parameter assumption. if you assume masks work when you build a model, the output of the model shows masks working. not exactly “go straight to stockholm to pick up your prize” territory, is it?

using this to refute an RCT is like using a horoscope to refute a radiological cancer diagnosis confirmed by 11 second opinions.

but it’s a “top journal” and “peer reviewed” and perfect for waving around as long as no one looks too closely. it’s great propaganda. (it’s also why having editorial control of once august scientific journals is so potent a political tool.)

this is the new game. it’s all about making wild statements that no one can believe anyone would be brazen enough to trot out, call up down and down sideways, claim you were the solution not the problem, and conjure the semblance of “evidence” where none exists.

this calms and rallies your adherents.

perniciously, it has the opposite effect on those that were not already drinking your brand of kool aid. they think you’re stupid or mendacious and hate you for it. this kind of propaganda is great intensifier of the politics of division. this is not going to make the debate any easier to engage in. that’s not what it’s for. the goal here is to subtract rationality, not to add it.


if you want off this crazy funhouse ride, just remember: it’s just propaganda.

  • this is for waving around and shoring up the base

  • it was never supposed to be true

  • it's just pretext to make believing a lie feel like virtue

  • and it hinges on people being too lazy to check facts

do the work, be careful who you trust, and give no blind allegiance.

tribalism works because people stop thinking for themselves and surrender that role to the tribe.

if you want to live in a less tribal world, don’t do that. encourage others not to. help them see the game being played and step outside it.

it’s gone on far too long already and it will get worse unless we get better.