Fear mongering

I have seen a resurgence of fear mongering powered by social media in the recent days. It is not the first one, and unfortunately not the last one.

Fear mongering

Some people in the Western society disregarded isolation rules imposed onto them. In some countries this disobeyance turns into city-wide or state-wide protests against restricting freedom.

It is amusing to see how much people think that even if the event has happened all around them, they will be protected. The pandemic started in China and it looked pretty bad. Anyone believing that it would stay there had woken up under a cold shower of the events from Italy and Spain. And in the recent weeks, it repeated (again) in the US.

And yet, there are people claiming that it cannot be that serious. This tweet summarises this attitude nicely:


On top of that, after the initial shock caused by the pandemic and restrictions, we are seeing more people trying to explain what is happening using easy-to-blame targets. Also, why it is happening.

From the virus being engineered in a laboratory... (because it shifts the responsibility from humanity being stupid and disobedient in general, to an Evil Organisation/Government actively trying to kill everyone)

To the virus being just as serious as the flu, but governments jumping on the occasion to impose further restrictions on the society... (provides easier to understand and binary explanation "government is evil" rather than complicated "there is an increased chance you will die if you go out or meet other people")

Not saying it is not happening—unfortunately, populist governments use the chaos to further enhance their agenda:

These 30 Regimes Are Using Coronavirus to Repress Their Citizens
Dog cages, crackdowns, censorship, surveillance, expanded police powers... Authoritarians are having a moment.

But that does not diminish the severity of the virus.

We also have had some religious and secular officials claiming this is God's punishment for abortion, or blasphemy, or homosexualism, or whatever is a drifting topic these days. I am pretty sure 150 years ago those same people would claim coronavirus is God's punishment for taking the first steps towards abolishing slavery.

You know who apparently is also (instead?) responsible for the pandemic? This guy:

Windows ME and spreading vaccines throughout the world are not his only sins, they say. He is also actively planning to depopulate the world, and the pandemic—or more accurately, the vaccination that everyone will be forced to take after it is developed—will be a mean to achieve it. Fortunately, I do not need to debunk it, since Snopes has already done that:

Did Bill Gates ‘Admit’ Vaccinations Are Designed So Governments Can ‘Depopulate’ the World?
The computer magnate believes that vaccines can be used to reduce childhood mortality and ultimately reduce population growth through associated social changes, not as an agent of death.

All of the above take the complex issue of where the virus originated, and why it affected some countries but not others, and provides a simple, easy to digest explanation.

We, as a species, love those. Truth is complex and requires time, as well as knowledge to uncover and understand—or at least willingness to become knowledgeable. There are experts in those topics that often spend their entire lives exploring just one very narrow part of our reality, sometimes over several generations. Those people slowly, but surely increase size of a dent in our sphere of knowledge, enlarging it little by little.

I have seen a few key phrases being frequently used by fear mongers:

  • think logically
  • think on your own / yourself
  • be open minded
  • use common sense
  • wake up
  • keep searching

All of them seem like indicators that someone, conciously or not, desires an explanation that is easier to comprehend than official version. They may also feel pleasure from knowing the forbidden truth, separating them from blind masses. This behaviour has been going for quite long, and seems to be deeply embedded within our species, based that it appears even in such old stories as this one:

The Fall of Man by Peter Paul Rubens, 1628-29. Wikipedia also notes: Findings in population genetics, particularly those concerning Y-chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve, indicate that a single first "Adam and Eve" pair of human beings never existed. 

It is not just the desire to know the forbidden truth, however, that I find problematic. On the contrary: curiosity is the aspect of humans that pushes our civilization forward, advancing technology and societal norms. Without it, we would have never started living in caves, let alone settle down as a species and start the agricultural revolution.

But that curiosity must be accompanied by an ability to accept the outcome for which there is enough evidence, and change beliefs if they are contradicted by the outcome.

Another important thing is weight of the evidence. Let us assume that 98% of scientists (again: those are people that dedicate their lives to making that small dent in our sphere of knowledge) say X. For instance, "vaccines are safe". 98% is overwhelmingly more than 2% of others, it is probably as close to consensus as you can get. And that consensus is coming from researchers being paid by competing companies and governments who would love to discredit each other, or at least prove their superiority. If 98% of these are telling the same story, then it will not be smart to say that "scientists are divided on this".

They are not—you are trying to cherrypick, so that your story can pretend to be true and your beliefs do not need to be updated. On top of that, you can still claim that you belong to the secret, woke, logically thinking, open minded society that knows The Truth.

Generally speaking, our planet would have been a much better place to live if individuals or groups of people stopped claiming that they have found The Truth. Youtube and Facebook fear mongerers are one example of such people, another would be any religion actively restricting freedoms of non-believers, and political extremists being yet another instance.

Let us all be more humble and admit that our world is complex, and that simple answers do not exist.Who am I kidding that this will happen?

Post scriptum: while I was writing above words, one of the Polish right wing e-newspapers published this opinion:

Translated: "What is Bill 666 Gates planning for us?"

And after I wrote the last sentence above, I encountered this brilliant article in my RSS reader, which describes "10 simple steps to propagate conspiracy theories". It perfectly fits the message I intended for this post. Have a read if you speak Polish:

Głupota na niedzielę: Jak propagować teorie spiskowe – poradnik “Sieci” | Kwantowo.pl
“To nie teorie spiskowe, ale łatwo sprawdzalne fakty” – napisał red. Maciej Pawlicki – po czym przystąpił do rozsiewania teorii spiskowych. Mam dla was materiał dydaktyczny. Tekst stanowiący

I took a crack at translating that decalogue to English:

  1. Assure the reader that this is not a conspiracy theory.
  2. Reference everybody, ie. nobody.
  3. Blend correlation with causation without second thoughts.
  4. It is good if data confirms your hypotheses, if not—even better.
  5. Point at The Evil One.
  6. Regardless of The Evil One, point at Soros as well.
  7. Do not forget vaccines—they are important!
  8. Mention depopulation plans.
  9. Reference symbols, especially biblical.
  10. Do not bother with sources.