we've reached the "we're not even going to pretend to prove this works, just do as you're told" stage of the pandemic
watch as the messaging shifts once more
cognitive dissonance is a helluva drug.
in essence, it’s really simple
humans do not like to hold mutually exclusive/contradictory viewpoints
you have an image of yourself and your place in the world
new information about the world emerges that either agrees or conflicts with this view
when it agrees, your view is reinforced
when it conflicts you now face a choice: either you change your views, or you change the data
obviously, any rational person tends to seek to change views and/or hold them less strongly when the data goes against them. but cognitive dissonance is not a rational process. it’s not even a conscious process. mostly, it just goes on inside the black box part of your mind that most people don’t or cannot access well. and this is what makes it so powerful.
it acts like a reality filter and it’s one most people do not even realize they possess. its effects are so fundamental that they outright change inputs to your thought process in real time. this can rapidly land you in an outright hallucination.
the key determinants of whether you will change your views or change the incoming input are twofold:
how strongly do you hold your views?
how powerful is the input?
if your views are strongly held, it takes a very powerful, definitive input to move them. sometimes, this is reasonable. steph curry bricks a shot, but it does not rattle his faith in his 3 pointer. but the flipside is that if you hold a view too strongly, all 5 foot 6 of you will be on your 90th attempt to dunk on lebron and screaming about cheating, bad refs, mis-inflated balls, or high frequency cuban lasers distracting you. in the end, you wind up hitler in the bunker moving around armies that don’t exist anymore on a board and thinking victory is right around the corner.
sanity lies in the middle and so we all have to make our best guesses. no one is free of this; this process is universal. life is balancing new data against old models of the world and figuring out what to trust and how to evolve. many cases are obvious. where it gets tricky are the edge cases where you have strong, cherished views and are getting strongly dissonant data. this is very uncomfortable for people. it niggles and itches and threatens your sense of self and sense of the world.
if the data coming into you is creating this aversive state, you can resolve it by changing your mind. but that’s not easy, especially if you have a public reputation to consider and the social price for doing so is high. you can try to ignore the dissonance and twist the data, but this is hard and takes a lot of energy. so a lot of people choose door number three: impugn the source.
these people are stupid. they say crazy things and believe lunatic ideas. they make up data and are paid or prejudiced shills and zealots. i am not losing the debate, they are simply not capable of understanding my brilliance. i might as well try to teach organic chemistry to nematodes.
“i am not wrong, those who disagree are incapable of comprehending my towering rightness” is a seductive liquor for the mind.
it allows you to retain your views and feel justified in refusing to accept a challenge to your authority and to your claims
add a soupçon of arrogance, and you land at “everyone is stupid but me so they cannot be reasoned with and so we’ll all be better off if i just tell them what to do and they do it.”
and that’s the stage of public health we are reaching, because they have lost the debate, been trounced on the data, and been caught lying and making up studies over and over but they are still sure they are experts (and there is no safe path down off the tiger onto which they have climbed in any event).
they are not going to change their minds nor in all likelihood can they without internal psychological crisis. imagine the psychic baggage of realizing that you just architected the most damaging and least effective public health response in human history while endlessly grandstanding about your knowledge and insight.
so now, in the fine tradition of the bastions of woo-woo seeking to hold themselves above reproach or even debate, it’s time for “we just need mandates because explaining this stuff to you is just too time consuming and you won’t understand anyway.”
the science is settled. do as you’re told.
brace for it, this is about to be an all fronts assault of appeal to authority and devious dissembling.
and sometimes, people lose all trust in public health officials.
listen to these actual arguments:
masks don’t work because you do it wrong and virus spreads at home
masks work because of this one story about me that millions of unmasked folks could tell just as easily.
this is not even an attempt at science. it’s anecdote, assumption, and presumption to dictate.
and they want this power very badly. they feel entitled to wield it. it is, in fact, the one thing that can make them feel safe. it’s why they are appealing the decision to strike down the CDC mandate on planes despite its clear unconstitutionality and unpopularity (and the overwhelming evidence that masks do not work and that airplanes, with their HEPA filtered air do not spread virus.)
this is the archetype of the “blueprint for the future” these “experts would like to see:
“the CDC MUST have strong powers!”
could there be a more self-serving line for those who determine policy and prosper under authoritarian technocracy?
now parse his actual argument. it’s entirely about compliance.
he’s used a rhetorical sleight of hand to frame mask mandates inducing people to wear masks as “mask mandates work.”
so, “using coercion can coerce people?”
hardly “book a ticket to stockholm to collect your prize in behavioral science” territory, is it?
but quite a revealing position nonetheless.
this logic could just as easily be applied to a mugging at gunpoint. it’s essentially the same moral and logical underpinning.
no discussion of efficacy. no discussion of ethics.
what an entirely telling tale told by omission.
this is going to be the new normal: made up and presumed data and no talking back with compliance to diktat slid in as proof of success and the benefits of doing as you are told presumed.
this entire group is tired of arguing and losing.
they are tired of pushing fake mask studies riddled with fraud only to have them revealed as such, over and over.
i mean, how many times can you get caught cherry picking data and timeframes on masking kids before people have had it with you?
they have learned that they are wrong and so have we.
even when they cheat, they cannot convince.
so now they will seek to compel.
they lost the societal argument and they know it. it’s obvious. you know how you can tell? because “Now it’s rare to see a mask at airports.”
the people have voted with their lives. they don’t want this. they don’t believe it. and they are right.
the reputations and authorities of these agencies are in tatters.
which is why all of them from the WHO to the CDC to local health boards are all looking to push for more unaccountable power.
one of the enduring questions here has long been: how can these people be so evil and predatory? how can they engage in such willful fraud and societal harms?
i think there is, perhaps, a better question to ask: what if they aren’t?
i’m not even sure that many of these folks are deliberately lying. they are just lying to themselves.
they have so distorted their own perceptions of the world, bent them in their intense egotistical and emotional gravity wells that they simply cannot inhabit reality. they are off in movies of their own making in which they are the heroes bravely standing against the philistines who cannot see that it’s for their own good.
the idea of this sort of massive spread of bureaucratic evil has never really sat well with me. it just seems implausible and humans are just not really like that and so i generally seek explanations rooted in invectives and emergent order.
to be sure, there are serious, dangerous liars in the mix here as well (a fellah whose name rhymes with “phony slouchy” comes to mind) but i suspect it’s far fewer than many have come to presume.
we have a large group of highly unqualified people with generally technocratic/authoritarian mindsets that have failed up into positions of power for which no one, much less they are really suited.
in a crisis, the emotional drive to “do something” is overwhelming. everyone clamors for action.
so they did things, visible things, bold things, wrong things.
then it all blew up and went wrong and by then, they were too emotionally invested to own the mistakes so they doubled and tripled down and blamed everyone but themselves for “not pandemicing hard enough.”
and they all got trapped.
and their cognitive dissonance and selection bias took over to protect their mental states.
and so in their minds they did not lose the debate. “you were too too benighted and dim to see that they won” is just the low energy pathway to preserve sense of self and self-worth.
they sincerely believe that you just cannot see the facts.
they did not sit down and draw up fake studies to push propaganda on masks, they were drawn unerringly to studies with bad methods and methodology and cherry picked data because those were the only ones that aligned with their priors that “masks must work” and they lack any critical or clinical grounding in data or study design so even the poorest of fugazis could fool them.
they reside in agencies so political that there are no scientific checks. you just grab the kinds of awful studies that are designed for waving around not replication and go big with them because you need justification for a false premise that cannot be validity by sound analysis.
and every time you are wrong, the net of cognitive dissonance tightens and you must ramp up to yet higher levels of distortion and belief because the only way you can avoid accepting the intrusion of facts you find too upsetting to see is to believe harder.
you wind up drinking whole pitchers of kool aid because it’s what protects your mental state and it rapidly becomes absolute dependence. it’s addiction. it’s classic cult behavior. when the aliens fail to destroy the earth on tuesday, the congregation becomes more, not less devout.
it’s just human nature. past a certain event horizon, the more you’re proven wrong, the more sure you will become that you are right.
you have distorted the facts coming in such that rather than looking like contradiction to your views, they serve as confirmation.
you will change every single thing you see before you will change yourself.
what should be the brake has become the gas.
from the beginning, they lacked any real ability to engage with the data intellectually. now they have piled being emotionally incapable of even seeing it if they could analyze it atop this issue. they grab at anything in hopes it might float them.
they are not vilifying you because they disdain you, they have come to disdain you because they love themselves so much and the only way to sustain that is to impugn their critics and ascribe malice and ineptitude to them.
they are deeply over their heads and drowning and they grow ever more sure as their wrongness becomes more clear.
and a drowning, panicked swimmer is incredibly dangerous.
and when such a swimmer is mistaken for a lifeguard the outcome is as awful as it is certain.
and this is why we must resist the grants of additional unaccountable power to these groups. because they are ALL full of people like this and ever shall be.
it need not be malice to become functionally evil. it need only be incompetent and arrogant and the outcome is the same.
they cannot be trusted to do the right thing even if they knew what it was, and generally, they do not.
these agencies are not safety.
they are danger.
history shows us that the emergent property of granting authoritarian power to venal midwit technocrats in a crisis is always going to be oppressive and awful.
and you know what they say about those who fail to learn from history.
or did you need another lesson?