The Preponderance of Bullshitters

I’ve not followed the career of Ben Shapiro except by accident. He’s one of those people whose opinions pop up on social media and have generally led me to think of him as a walloper with spectacular means for self-promotion.

Last night I only noticed him because he’d posted two maps of the US, challenging his followers to spot the pattern between the people who wear masks and the places with the biggest outbreaks of COVID-19. DOH! They all live in the same places! Wow! Maybe masks make the virus… worse?!

It was really a lesson in the old and valuable truism: correlation does not imply causation. I doubt I have to explain why it was a dumb claim to make, but just for the sake of completion, both maps were essentially reflecting the population density of the US. Rural places don’t have many people wearing masks or spreading the infection for a reason that has nothing to do with masks or infections. It’s because very few people live there.

I decided I’d write about this on my way to bed last night. Weighing on my mind was the realisation – not exactly profound but timely – that too many people still listen to the advice of people who have been proven to be wrong too many times. I mean, there was a reason why people listened to Stephen Hawking throughout his long and distinguished career and it wasn’t because he previously claimed that blackholes with large intersteller clams or once proposed injecting the sun with bleach to stop its harmful rays. No, he was consistent through his career. He was not always right but, when wrong, it was wrong in a reasonable way.

The opposite is true of the bullshit squadron, who are rarely right and, when wrong, monumentally wrong. Their chief spokesman is Donald Trump. Despite everything he’s done and, more importantly, failed to do around the coronavirus crisis, he only trails Biden by double digits. In any rational world, he’d be trailing by three figures among US voters. He has now apparently told hundreds of thousands of lies throughout his presidency, yet journalists still ask him questions. Why 30% of Americans would still support him says more about 30% of Americans and, perhaps, human beings. One day we might find the right way to talk about them but, for the moment, the best one can do is pity them.

Yet beyond Trump, there’s a whole universe of nincompoops who shamelessly spout rubbish and never feel the shame of being wrong. Instead, they roll on like some imperious German tank that is impervious to criticism or, apparently, self-awareness. Peter Hitchens is the finest example of the phenomenon in the UK. He continues to write his tedious nonsense months after being proved wrong about the lockdown (it did flatten the curve), wrong about Sweden being the right model for response (allowing every bugger to catch it), and, I’d suggest, wrong about nearly everything he writes. It would be laughable if it weren’t deadly serious. Excuse my language – I’ve had enough of being calm and objective about this idiot – but this addle-brained fuckwit is now leading the moronic chorus on the subject of facemasks. He devotes an entire column today to the cheapest trick of the sceptic’s playbook: finding contradictions in scientific advice. His purpose: to spread the malicious message that the state is out to subjugate us.

I wish I could shift into some other hyper-inflected language to express my frustration at this point…

How utterly irresponsible, dangerous, and morally bankrupt do you have to be to lecture against the science from you amateur soapbox in the middle of a pandemic? If masks prevent the virus from spreading by only 1% they are worth wearing…

Deep breath.

These people are zealots to only one cause: their bank accounts. Being contradictory is how they make their money and they know full well how to do it. It’s all jingoism wrapped around deep state conspiracy bullshit, pandering to the outlooks of the perpetually wizened who read papers like The Mail on Sunday. They don’t have real wars to fight so they fight them in their imaginations; the wrinkled Fifth Column ready to man the barricades when the sugar police come for their boxes of Terry’s All Gold. What is most shameful about this is that the effort to wear facemasks is to protect the very people who are being the most sceptical.

It’s so depressing I really don’t know what to say. If we can’t convince people about the sense of masks, what hope did we ever have of persuading them about Brexit or the value of immigration? This week Hitchens is moaning about masks and next week it will no doubt be the vaccine which he objects to, probably with some overwrought argument along the line “this Stalinist government now wants to impose itself on my body by injecting this ungodly product of chemical labs”… Then he’ll be back to his old lament about an England lost to “progress”.

There is, however, one other possibility and that is: he’s right and I’m wrong. Not only am I wrong, I might well be insane. Frankly, I worry about that a lot. There has to be a reason he has the readers and I don’t. Maybe *this* (waves arms to the reality I see around me) is what insanity looks like. Does the guy in the tin foil hat claiming there are aliens thinks he’s the one making sense? Maybe me, sitting here still trying to protect my loved ones, is the person who has been brainwashed into believing masks and science. Looking at the evidence – the two books of cartoons I’ve compiled this last fortnight and my continued belief in this blog – and I’m compelled to raise the question. Am I mad? Or do I just feel so gaslit that I can no longer tell up from down?

4 thoughts on “The Preponderance of Bullshitters”

  1. People do seem to like to feel affronted though, don’t they? But I’m wondering about something else. If we assume that people are people the world over and that some are reasonable and some are not, why is this country appearing so stupid in comparison to other places? I think it may be to do with the FPTP voting system because at least if you had something proportional it would better reflect the nature of the population as a whole. It frustrates me a lot that the Lib Dems didn’t really make the best job of selling the AV referendum – I wonder how people would react to it now.

    1. It’s so difficult to answer that question without sounding slightly batty because I do eventually end up blaming the media for some of this. I do think the voting system is flawed. I keep repeating my belief that the splits on the Left (Labour, Lib Dems, Green) ensure that the Tories have a huge advantage given there’s no longer any meaningful split on the right since they’ve neutralised UKIP/The Brexit Party. The print media is largely to the right of centre, which means that Labour only get into power when they can look acceptable to the centre right. Labour will now spend some time before they can convince people that they’re still not the party of Corbyn. I worry about the government’s attacks on any media critical of them, when BJ avoided much scrutiny in the leadership contest and then the general election. They’re still doing it through this crisis and I genuinely don’t know what the answer might be. I don’t believe it’s much of a surprise that the cabinet are so tightly linked with the media: former editors, journalists, married to journalists etc… But perhaps now I’ve hit the point where I do sound batty. But then, is it batty to worry about the role newspaper columnists have in forming public opinion whilst, at the same time, married to powerful people in Westminster?

      Beyond that: I worry about educational standards in the country. Too often we measure these things by the brightest and best but beneath that there’s a woefully inadequate system that just doesn’t teach the basics well. Critical thinking, in particular, is neglected and even good students arrive at university with a mentality that’s taught them to learn the right answers and don’t think for themselves. Given that, how can they be expected to think critically into adulthood?

  2. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you” – agree re v dubious links between government and press, and also the fact that it makes the government pretty media-savvy at getting their message across. I’d like to say I’m flabbergasted at the way they just brazen out their various misdemeanours and get away with it but I’m not, I’m just deeply depressed by it.

    Absolutely agree re critical thinking – I think that at one time it was offered as an A-level but not a “valued” one, if you see what I mean. It’s like with how media studies is perceived, when it’s actually quite good to know how people’s perceptions can be influenced by how the media deliver the message (and ironically media studies appears to have been a victim of this).

    Good podcast last week, by the way – I’m playing catch-up this week but sometimes it’s nice to listen to something with the benefit of hindsight and look at how things actually did turn out.

    1. Brazenly riding out storms has become the modern political talent but I think it’s largely because there are no ways to get rid of politicians so long as they have control of the narrative. It’s scary, really, to consider who really has the power to shift Prime Ministers. It’s not MPS as much as it’s people like Murdoch, who can change the narrative of Fleet Street with one phone call. In the US, it’s Zuckerberg who empowers Trump through Facebook. Not idea for any democracy yet increasingly the norm.

      Yes, I’ve always thought the media studies criticism odd, though I suppose understandable if people assume that everybody studying media hopes to work in the media. (And, sadly, that is a bit of a cliche). As a route to criticial thinking, it’s one of the best because it really does make you scrutinise everything around you. I’ve done both science degrees and humanities degrees and I came to the conclusion that the former are much more formal, harder in the sense you have to really do long hours of book studying and memory practice. The latter, however, are easier since they’re more pleasurable (I miss the says when I’d wake up and think “oh dear, I have to sit down and read Charles Dickens’ greatest novel today”) but they do make you think more and can leave you mentally exhausted. Not that I think we should really divide them this way, which is a relatively modern obsession.

      Podcast: Thank you! Good to know people are still listening! 😉

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It’s a cool domain name and it was available. Yes, I know. Available. Crazy, isn’t it?

Really?

Yes. It also helps that it’s also my favourite satire written by Alexander Pope, one of the most metrically pure English poets who also knew his way around a crude insult or two. If you’ve not read it, you should give it a try.

So this is satire, right?

Can’t deny it. There will be some. But it’s also an experiment in writing and drawing, giving work away for free in order to see how many people are willing to support a writer doing his thing. It’s the weird stuff that I wouldn’t get published elsewhere in this word of diminishing demands and cookie-cutter tastes.