Reflections on society, politics and nature XXXVI

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

POLITICAL DIMENSIONS I FIND USEFUL

There are some political dimensions I find as useful as the conventional ones.

The main one may be inclusiveness. Is this policy aimed at benefiting all life, as far as possible? Or is it aimed at benefiting one particular group at the expense of others? Of course, we may not be able to find policies that always benefit everyone, but we can do our best. And when I say all life, I mean all life – including non-human species and future generations.

Another is reality orientation. Is this view or policy grounded in reality? Is it grounded in science? Or is it based on ideology, logical fallacies, misinformation, or conspiracy theories?

And yet another is democracy. Does this policy, party, or politician aim to deepen and strengthen democracy? Or does it aim to undermine it?

The first one has been important to me since my mid-teens. The second has become more salient and relevant in our post-truth era. And the third has similarly become relevant due to anti-democracy forces that are both unintentional (social media, echo chambers) and intentional (weaponized fake news, conspiracy theories, troll farms), and leaders of democracies that actively undermine these democracies like Trump and Putin.

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NORWAY, PANDEMIC, AND AIR VS TOUCH PATHWAYS

Since early on the pandemic, epidemiologists and other specialists suspected – and later knew – that the virus primarily transmits through the air. People breathe it out and others breathe it in, especially in enclosed spaces, and given a little time.

This makes the Norwegian approach look weird and somewhat inexplicable. Why so much focus on hand sanitation while mask wearing has largely been ignored?

Why not encourage people to wear masks? Is it because they feared there would be a lack of quality masks for health personnel? If so, why didn’t they just say that? Why did they instead say “people don’t know how to wear masks properly so we won’t recommend it”? Why give such a blatantly absurd argument when the remedy clearly is to instruct people? (That’s what we do with everything else, including driving a car, wearing a seat belt, going hunting, avoiding spoiled food, and so on.)

Their argument seems to be an example of “the perfect being the enemy of the good”. Wearing masks may not protect 100% against infection, but it does reduce the viral load and that’s as or more important.

Everyone may not know exactly how to use masks, but most will do it pretty well, especially with some guidance and instructions.

And although there are strict rules and guidelines for how to wear masks in hospitals and high-contamination settings, for most regular people out and about in stores and some public settings, following slightly less strict practices will be more than good enough.

NOVEMBER 21, 2020

HUMANS DON’T EVOLVE PHYSICALLY ANYMORE?

I don’t think we’re still evolving physically, because we control our environment so much.

– Meave Leakey in Meave Leakey: ‘Definitely, Africa is where it all began’

I have heard others say this and I have to admit it doesn’t make any sense to me. Why wouldn’t we still evolve physically? After all, we have all sorts of unique stressors in our modern lives that impact our ability to survive and have successful offspring. The few we know include electromagnetic radiation, modern diet (toxins, refined), a tendency to obesity (with associated health problems), and inactivity. And then there are the innumerable impacts on our ability to have successful offspring that we are not yet aware of. They may not be very visible over short time spans but may still have a significant impact over time. All of this surely impacts and shapes our continued physical evolution.

It may be that Leakey and others who talk about “no physical evolution” are well aware of this but think it will have a minor impact on our evolution. But all these changes appear invisible or minor to us over the span of a few generations. They only become visible over longer time spans. I would have thought this would be the most obvious to someone who studies human evolution full time.

DECEMBER 2, 2020

CULTURAL ASSUMPTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGY

Mainstream psychology is, inevitably, full of assumptions and cultural biases. It’s part of how we view the world, we cannot so easily step out of it, so it’s best to be aware of it as well as we can.

The second scale is “supernatural overconfidence,” and it encompasses self-ascribed abilities in the paranormal domain. Example statements include “I can send positive energy to others from a distance,” “I can get in touch with people who are deceased,” and “I can influence the world around me with my thoughts.”

Study links some forms of spiritual training to narcissism and “spiritual superiority”

I won’t go into other aspects of this article, although it’s clear that we can use spiritual practice to feel superior and so on. Or, in other words, to try to compensate for feeling inferior, deficient, a sense of lack, and so on.

What I find interesting in that quote is that the things they ask about – getting in touch with the deceased and so on – are an integral part of most human cultures. Our current western culture, and in particular academia, is the exception.

In our culture, we assume those things are not possible, so if someone assumes they can it’s seen as a sign of being out of touch with reality, and possibly a sign of mental instability or illness.

Of course, this is a cultural bias. As mentioned earlier, in most human cultures, these things are seen as normal. It’s interesting that some psychologists are so invested in the worldview of their culture, that they use it to judge what’s healthy or not.

I assume they discuss this in the articles or books they publish on this topic and acknowledge that they are coming from their own cultural views, that people from other cultures will see it differently, and that their assumptions do not reflect any final or absolute truth.

PANDEMIC CONSPIRACIES

I haven’t written (much) about the pandemic conspiracies here since most of them don’t make much sense and are based in misinformation and poor logic. But here is my response to a social media post advocating some of these conspiracies:

Most of the measures used for this pandemic were used in the 1918 pandemic. It’s the standard pandemic measures – distance, isolation, quarantine, cleanliness, tracing, masks, etc. When I studied epidemiology at university, we had several case studies for each of these – some of which go far back in time.

If the relatively simple and common-sense measures governments recommend for this particular pandemic were part of a conspiracy, that conspiracy would have to have gone back decades and centuries, and academics studying epidemiology would have to be part of it.

The ones who have studied epidemiology or work in epidemiology do not see a conspiracy here. They see governments applying standard pandemic measures with varying degrees of commitment and success. (And the US is doing a particularly bad job of it. If there was some coordinated conspiracy behind it, I would have expected them to do a much better job.)

DECEMBER 7, 2020

VIRAL LOAD

The reason for recommending hygiene, distance, masks, not staying in an enclosed space with others for very long, and so on, isn’t just to avoid transmission. It’s also to reduce the viral load when we do get infected. And viral load is one of the many known and as-yet-unknown factors that determine how sick someone gets.

This is just speculation, but I wonder if viral load is one of the reasons why the US seems harder hit than many other countries. Population density, existing health factors (obesity, diabetes etc.), access to health care, and government response obviously play a big role.

I also wonder if poverty, living and work situation, and not taking the virus seriously because of conspiracy theories and politics contribute to a higher viral load, more serious illness, and also – in some cases – death.

DECEMBER 11, 2020

MASKS DON’T WORK?

I keep seeing otherwise relatively sane people getting caught up in conspiracy theories around the pandemic and other issues.

One is that masks don’t work. A friend of mine is very insistent on this topic, and even reading what she writes, it’s hard for me to understand exactly where she is coming from.

To me, it’s clear that masks do work. Masks prevent spit and drops from flying out of the mouth and onto surfaces and into the eyes and mouths of other people. And the good ones – the ones that fit closely on the face and have a good filter – do filter out a certain amount of virus on both in- and out-breath. No matter the quality, they reduce the risk of infection, and they reduce the viral load when people get infected which can be the difference between a mild and serious infection. Personally, I avoid the masks that are open on the sides since they don’t really filter the air. I use the ones that are close-fitting and of medical quality.

It seems that this otherwise sane friend say they don’t work because they are not fool-proof and not all masks filter all viruses out. They don’t necessarily and in all cases prevent infection. But that’s not their job. Their job is not to be “perfect” in all cases.

Their job is to reduce the risk of infection, especially if of good quality and used right. And their job is to reduce the viral load if we get infected.

Masks work. They are not “perfect” if we assume they will always prevent infection. But they reduce the risk of infection and they reduce the viral load, and that’s all we can ask for. That’s more than enough reason to use them.

MASK STUDY

The same friend of mine posted a Danish study where they didn’t find a big difference in infection rate between those wearing masks and those who didn’t.

Here are some question I have about that study:

How does it fit in with other studies? Is it an outlier? Are there other studies where they found the same?

Did the participants get infected while wearing masks or in situations where they didn’t wear them? (For instance, they may have been infected within their own household, as most do.)

Did they wear high-quality and close-fitting masks? I see many wear poor quality single-use masks that are open on the side. These prevent spit while talking, which is very good, but they obviously don’t filter out much virus. In the worst case, they give false confidence.

Did the participants follow the other guidelines for avoiding infection? Did they keep a good distance from others? Did they avoid staying in enclosed spaces with others outside of their household for more than a few minutes? Did they consistently disinfect their hands?

Was there a difference in viral load and severity of the illness between those wearing masks and those who didn’t?

If the study didn’t look at all of these factors and more, I would take it with a big grain of salt.

DECEMBER 22, 2020

VACCINE PRIORITIES

They are rolling out the vaccinations in Norway before the end of the year. For some reason, health care personell are not even on the list of prioritized groups.

Why? It’s hard to understand. Especially now with the new faster-spreading mutation of the virus.

If they are protected, we all are protected. If there is another surge in infections, and if the new mutation – and similar mutations – get more widespread, we risk to have a large number of health care personell out of commission, so it’s in all our interest for them to be vaccinated early.

Update: The government did change this December 30, although it’s difficult to understand why health care personnel were not prioritized from the beginning.

DECEMBER 26, 2020

CFS/ME AND GIVING BLOOD

I know that some with CFS/ME gives blood, and the official guidelines in Norway is “go ahead as long as you don’t get too dizzy”.

This is one of the many things I am baffled by in the world. We know that CFS/ME is often initiated by and connected to viral infections (often Epstein-Barr). We know that something physiological is going on. We don’t know exactly – or perhaps even roughly – what it is. So why allow giving blood?

If we don’t know what’s going on, why take the chance? Why risk something being transmitted that can lead to illness?

CONSPIRACIES AND PRIVILEGE

I have written about conspiracy theories several times before. Mainly, they are funded on logical fallacies, misinformation, and data that wouldn’t hold up in any court. What we know is going on in the world is far more serious than what’s described in most conspiracy theories, which means they function as a distraction. (Sometimes, intentionally so.) And I suspect most who get into conspiracy theories does it for emotional reasons, to feel important or that they know something others don’t, or to poke at authorities.

There is another aspect of many conspiracy theories, and that’s privilege. For instance, the majority of anti-vaxxers live in a society that’s mostly safe from serious illnesses due to sanitation and – yes – decades of vaccinations. This relative safety is what allows them the luxury to go overboard in vilifying vaccines and not vaccinate their children. (Of course, a few get seriously sick from vaccines but that’s a risk we are willing to take in any other areas of life, including any time we get in a car. In the case of most vaccines, the benefits hugely outweigh the risk.)

STIGMATIZING CFS / ME

Through western history, there has always been pariah illnesses. Some decades ago, it was cancer and ulcers. Now, it’s CFS/ME, EMF sensitivity, and similar mystery illnesses.

There are several sides to this.

One is that any illness we don’t know the cause of is often assumed to be psychological. It’s all in the head. It’s a nervous illness.

And, for whatever reason, psychological illnesses themselves have a stigma, so this stigma gets transferred to the mystery illness.

This, in turn, creates a great deal of additional stress and problems for people with these illnesses. They feel they are not taken seriously. They may feel stigmatized and misunderstood by society and those around them. Doctors and others may suggest or require treatments almost certainly to not help. They may not receive the support – financially and otherwise – people with more recognized illnesses receive. The illness may be down-prioritized in medical research. And so on.

And this does something to people. The stigma creates additional stress and difficulties. And it may also lead to very understandable frustration, anger, reactivity, anxiety, depression, and so on.

This, in turn, may be used by others to justify their initial bias and judgment. People with this illness have anxiety and are often reactive and angry, so their problem is clearly psychological, just as we thought.

It’s based in misconceptions and prejudice. It’s a vicious circle. It won’t last. (At some point, we’ll understand CFS/ME better.) And another set of diseases will be similarly stigmatized.

COMEDY REQUIRES PREJUDICE AND STEREOTYPES?

In an article, a Norwegian comedian (?) says that comedy requires prejudice and stereotypes, and if people are too sensitive or “politically correct”, there is no comedy.

To me, this seems misguided. Good comedy can be used to speak truth to power, support those less fortunate in life, and it can even be warm and inclusive. It’s not uncommon for comedians to use themselves as material for their comedy, which is often funny, charming, and disarming. And it’s not uncommon for comedians to target those in power and the privileged.

My suspicion is that this comedian wants to fuel and speak from his own stereotypes and perhaps bigotry, and doesn’t know how to be funny in other ways. It says more about him and his limitations than anything else.

BECOMING MINI-TRUMPS

I belong to a permaculture group on FaceBook that is currently over-run with anti-Trump messages, including from the moderator telling anyone supporting Trump to leave the group.

It’s a very common dynamic. We become what we hate. If we hate Trump, we become like him – as the intolerance, hatred, and “it’s my way or the high-way” and “you are with us or against us” orientation of some in that group shows us. They become eco/permaculture mini-Trumps.

Of course, in reality, we already are like that. What we see in others is what we have in ourselves. What we hate in others is what we hate in ourselves. And if we hate it, we end up living what we hate.

LONG COVID, CFS, AND MORE

There are several reasons I want to avoid a C19 infection. One is that I don’t want to unwittingly infect others, including people who may be in the risk groups. The other is that I want to avoid possible long Covid, which seems devastating and very challenging. (I have two friends who got infected in February/March, and both are still struggling with it to the point of being unable to work.)

It seems that some aspects of long Covid are similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and typical post-viral challenges. (Fatigue, brain fog, post-exertion malaise, etc.) And other aspects may be unique to long Covid (damage to lungs etc.)

I still hope research into long Covid will shed light on CFS and post-viral syndrome in general.

JANUARY 6, 2020

NOT A FOLLOWER?

I saw a shirt which said, “Not a follower” on the front. It can be worn sincerely if we believe the thought that we are not a follower. Or it can be, more accurately, be worn ironically since we all follow something or someone. At the very least, most of us follow our conditioning and any thoughts we believe. And beyond that, most of us follow assumptions and habits from our culture and whatever subcultures we are in or want to identify with.

DAMAGED CHILD

When I see Trump, I see a damaged child. Someone severely traumatized in childhood, and who – in many ways – still is a child. Many parts of him are stuck in trauma reactions and have been unable to develop and mature much since then.

Today, Trump supporters stormed Congress. (With racist police standing back, as they so often do when right-wingers and white supremacists break the law and engage in violence.) They too seem to behave like damaged children, which is not very surprising.

It’s possible to have some understanding – and wishing healing for them and have compassion for their pain, and at the same time speak clearly about what we see and take action to prevent the damage these people may be causing to others and society.

JANUARY 7, 2020

RATS LEAVING THE SHIP

I see that Tybring-Gjedde, a right-wing politician in Norway, now finally is condemning Trump, after first being a fan boy and even nominating him to the Nobel Peace Price (!).

Why the shift? And why now? It’s probably because Trump’s last chance of staying president – the Congressional confirmation of Biden’s election win – has past. Now that Trump is no longer in power, it’s time for people like Tybring-Gjedde to finally denounce him.

The reality is that people like Tybring-Gjedde and so many from his far-right libertarian party (which I disagree with on just about everything) secretly and not-so-secretly love Trump and what Trump stands for.

As long as Trump was president, they felt empowered to bring out these sides of themselves – the racism, bigotry, selfishness, immaturity, and so on. And now that the environment has changed, they decide to distance themselves from this. Although it’s very clear that his party (FrP) still operates from the same values as Trump. They just dress it up a bit more and pretend they don’t.

SURPRISED BY TRUMP?

Several people seem to be shocked that Trump indirectly encouraged the storming of Congress and refused to condemn the domestic terrorists engaging in it. Where have these people been the last four years? Where have they been the last couple of decades?

This is completely in line with Trump’s personality and previous actions. We knew that before he was elected. I have to assume that most of the people voting for him knew. (The information was readily available. And just by listening to him, it’s pretty clear that he is only in it for himself, he thrives on chaos, and he lacks a moral compass of any type.)

What surprises me is that he hasn’t done more damage and haven’t wreaked more chaos than he has. For instance, I half expected him to start a war somewhere to improve his ratings.

BEACON OF DEMOCRACY?

I see some talk about the US as having been or being a beacon of democracy in the world. I have never understood that. To me, US democracy is deeply flawed, especially compared to countries like Norway. (And no country has a deep form of democracy yet.)

The US has an undemocratic history. It’s built on theft, genocide, slavery, and racism. For a long period, they left large groups of people out of the democratic process. (Which all countries did, to be fair.) They have systematically intervened in the internal affairs of other countries, including in toppling democracies and supporting dictatorships. They – the Republicans – are currently engaged in systematic voter suppression. Big money dictates policies. The list is endless.

The US is not a beacon of democracy and never was.

HALF OF THE US IS IGNORANT, RACIST, XENOPHOBIC, AND INFANTILE?

A social scientist in Norway sums it up: “It’s, unfortunately, true that half of the US population is ignorant, xenophobic, sexist, and racist.”

It’s pretty obvious, especially when we see the support that Trump had and still has, and the number of people taking onboard infantile conspiracy theories like QAnon.

Why? There are probably several reasons.

Poor education. Lack of taxpayer-supported higher education. Lack of critical thinking skills and media literacy.

Collective trauma – from poverty, lack of universal healthcare, violence, and more.

A history of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and so on, and tendencies to glorify this history.

Media like Fox News that fuel misinformation and right-wing views. Social media bubbles that reinforce whatever views we already have.

A Democratic party that has, to a large extent, supported neo-liberal policies that harm large portions of the population. They have ignored the real needs of those struggling. Because of the two-party system, there is no real alternative, and that’s why someone like Trump can come and gain support.

NOBODY IS ABOVE THE LAW

I see several suggesting that Trump and his enablers should be allowed to get away with what they have done. Prosecuting them and holding them accountable for their actions will only deepen the divide.

I understand that thinking, to some extent. At the same time, it seems profoundly misguided. These are people who bend and break the rules and take it as far as they can get away with. They don’t follow normal norms for behavior. So it’s up to the rest of us to set clear boundaries and hold them accountable. We need to show them and others what’s acceptable and what’s not in a supposedly civilized democracy.

This is the first principle of protecting a democratic and tolerant society. If we are tolerant towards the intolerant, they’ll only be encouraged to take it further. We need to be intolerant towards intolerance to protect a tolerant and democratic society. (Even if it is flawed and there is great room for improvement.)

As I see it, this includes sacking the Congresspeople who voted against certifying Biden as the new president (they knew what they were doing), prosecuting Trump for all he has done, reversing his pardons, and also prosecuting anyone who has enabled his crimes – staffers and politicians alike.

Even if they don’t take it that far, clearly criminal behavior – and encouraging criminal behavior – has to be prosecuted.

Any parent knows this. We have to set clear boundaries for the good of all of us. And that also applies to society, even more so.

BREAKUP OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY ?

There is obviously a split within the Republican party, but does it mean it will splinter into two parties?

It’s probably a remote possibility, but it seems more likely now than in the past.

We have two clear factions within the Republican party. One is the old-school Reagan type Republicans who want to benefit the rich and screw everyone else, combined with some “value conservative” Republicans who are anti-abortion and so on. The other is the neo-fascist conspiracy theorists who follow Trump and recently invaded the Capitol.

So far, they have co-existed. The first category Republicans have supported Trump because he got things done, including some of their own pet projects. Now, that Trump will be out of the White House and they lost the presidency, House, and Senate, many of the first group of Republicans are re-thinking their support of the Trump lunatic fringe. And that may lead to a more open division within the Republican party.

It’s not unthinkable that the second group of Republicans will start their own party, making the original Republican party smaller than it currently is. As I see it, that would be a blessing-in-disguise legacy of the Trump presidency.

Note: I have nothing against traditional conservative politics in general. There are many good and important values there. What I personally don’t like is policies aimed at benefiting a small group at the expense of everyone else (and future generations) because it’s small-minded and harms us all. And I also don’t particularly like views and policies based on weirdo conspiracy theories and not grounded in reality.

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