Bullshit Health Hell in a handcart

Conspiracy magnets

Something that’s become really apparent in the final days of the Trump administration is that cranks of a feather flock together. If you believe that the US election has been stolen, chances are you also believe that the COVID vaccine contains microchips, and that furniture shop Wayfair traffics stolen children.

Thanks to Twitter I discovered that there’s a name for this phenomenon: crank magnetism. As RationalWiki puts it:

A sovereign citizen, a creationist, an anti-vaxxer, and a conspiracy theorist walk into a bar. He orders a drink.

The reason for it is very simple. Believing in a conspiracy theory means denying evidence, denying authority, denying reality. And once you do that once, once you decide that despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary the people in authority are covering something up, you’re much more open to the idea that they’re covering other things up too.

To put it simply: once you believe they’re covering up one thing, it’s easy to believe that they’re covering up everything.

For example, if you believe that mainstream medicine is covering up the efficacy of homeopathy or of ancient Chinese medicine, it isn’t much of a leap to believe that mainstream medicine is covering up the links between MMR and autism. If you believe that Big Pharma is being funded by the Jews to turn everybody trans, it’s hardly a stretch to believe that Big Pharma created COVID to sell vaccines or that those vaccines contain microchips.

Once you deny one reality, you can easily end up denying all reality. You can see that in the COVID deniers, in the QAnon craze, in the ludicrous things people believe about marginalised groups.

The conspiracies don’t even need to make sense, or fit with a coherent worldview. Studies have found that conspiracists will happily believe conspiracies that contradict each other – so if you believe that Princess Diana faked her own death, you’re also highly likely to believe that Princess Diana was murdered. The specifics don’t really matter: either way, there’s a cover-up.

It’d be fascinating if it weren’t so frightening.

Hell in a handcart

“When we give up on truth, we concede power”

In the New York Times Magazine: The American Abyss, a longread about the attempted coup and what led to it.

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth.


Doing it for the kids

My son and daughter go to different schools but right now they’re getting their education in the same location: my home. They’re both learning remotely, joining their classmates and teachers on Microsoft Teams and using things like my phone to take pictures of their work and upload it to the school.

What’s really striking about this is how much work the teachers have put into it, how patient they are with the kids and how brilliantly they’re using the technology. Not all heroes wear capes.

Hell in a handcart

Profiting from poverty

Another day, another example of the private sector profiteering from poverty. This time it’s free school meals. Previously parents were given £30 vouchers to pay for their kids’ school lunches. Now, the lunches are provided for them instead.

Just one problem. Instead of £30 of food, the packages contain about £5 worth of food.

Bootstrap Cook Jack Monroe is rightly furious.

The vouchers were a good idea. They were BLOCKED from being spent on age restricted products, like alcohol, lottery tickets, cigarettes. Despite this restriction, mouthpieces on Twitter with their own austerity agendas claimed that there was widespread misuse. With no evidence.

…Because of a noisy few objecting with fabricated or v rare examples of an abuse of the system (rich when it’s usually coming from people who themselves abuse every financial loophole they can find…) the vouchers, which were a lifeline, have been replaced with a food box.

…Its value at supermarket prices is under a fiver. To replace a £30 voucher.




“This isn’t homeschooling”

For many parents, today is the beginning of another block of having the kids attending school virtually rather than in person. It’s many things – difficult and exhausting, mainly – but it’s not homeschooling.

Dr Mary O’Kane on Twitter:

This is not ‘home schooling’. Home schooling is a conscious decision made by some parents having researched that option. This is emergency education, during lockdown, while surviving a pandemic! So, let’s lower our expectations of ourselves a little. #homeschooling #lockdown

As Dr O’Kane adds:

The most important thing is our children’s wellbeing, and our relationship with them. We need to let go of our vision of perfect parenting, definitely good enough is good enough at the moment!

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Fellow travellers

Before they stormed the US Capitol building leading to the death of four people (so far), the MAGA mob cheered a “bizarre” anti-trans rant by Donald Trump Jr.

Speaking before his father addressed the crowd at Wednesday’s MAGA protest against Congress certifying the presidential election, Trump Jr. brought up gender-neutral language as well as transgender women participating in sports as women.

If you were to draw a Venn diagram showing the makeup of the mob – the neo-Nazis, the anti-vaxxers, the anti-semites, the racists and the guys who just want to break stuff – transphobia is where the circles overlap. And the same applies to their cheerleaders in the media, the pundits who’ll spend the coming days and weeks telling you that violent armed mobs are less dangerous than my pronouns. They will ask you to try and understand the angry mob and urge you to listen to their “legitimate concerns”.

We already understand them, because we’ve been listening to them for years. The far right and its enablers always target marginalised groups first. Those groups have spent years trying to tell you about the violent rhetoric, the science denial, the conspiracy theories, the misinformation, disinformation and radicalisation, the rage. We should all be horrified by what happened at the Capitol. But nobody should be surprised.


Beans and being mean

If you’re not Very Online, you may have missed Bean Dad: for a full day social media was sharing and/or piling on a man who posted about teaching, or rather not teaching, his daughter to use a can opener.

Emily Pothast explains it:

…despite a bombshell story about Trump attempting to manipulate the outcome of the Georgia election, “Bean Dad” was the social media network’s top trending topic. Bean Dad, it turned out, was John Roderick, who had issued a series tweets about how his 9-year-old daughter had asked for his help opening a can of beans while he was working on a jigsaw puzzle. Instead of showing her how to work the can opener, he made her figure it out on her own, which she finally did after six hours of “grunting and groaning.”

I saw the original posts and assumed it was someone very selectively telling a story in an attempt to go viral, as did Pothast. But as she points out, it became something more interesting when people began to unearth Roderick’s old tweets containing various slurs and quite a lot of homophobia, ableism and antisemitism. The tweets don’t appear to be sincere; they appear to be the kind of “edgy” humour you find in episodes of South Park.

And that got Pothast thinking.

Over the past day, the discourse around the Bean Dad kerfuffle has had me thinking about the larger cultural disconnect it reveals between members of the same community. This is the chasm between between those who have decided that joking about “funny rape” or ironically calling someone a “fag” actually isn’t very original or creative (and honestly never was), and those who feel alienated by the prospect of living in a world where their jokes about Jews (delivered with or without affecting a Cartman voice) are no longer met with unconditional approval.


I am a mirror

There’s an odd but interesting series on The Good Men Project called Rideshare Confessionals, which sets out to “[examine] the human experience in passengers’ stories as delivered from a therapist moon-lighting as a rideshare driver.”

I did say it was odd.

This one is about a trans passenger, and while it’s all a bit overwrought for me I though this bit was insightful:

When encountering a transgender woman, many cisgender men don’t see a person. They see a mirror.

I think there’s a lot of truth in that. So much of the discussion about trans people is based not on who we are or what we do, but how our existence makes other people feel. And it’s very difficult to change that: to invert the right-wing trope, feelings don’t care about your facts.

This also applies to other marginalised groups, of course. And sadly it’s often used to justify the mistreatment of members of those groups.

You can bash the mirror by creating laws that marginalize people, try to drive them indoors so you never have to look at them. You can create labels and policies that stigmatize them so they are denied personhood. You can talk to them like objects, and heap all your judgments on them.

…mirrors are fragile things. If not handled with care, they break



Whine producers

My friend Ellie just coined a phrase I really love: whine producers. Think Toby Young, Allison Pearson and all the other people who have bad opinions for money, and who churn out those opinions on an industrial scale.

LGBTQ+ Media

The paper of a broken record

Jeffrey Ingold, Stonewall’s head of media:

In 2020, The Times (incl. the Sunday Times) wrote 324 articles about trans people & ‘trans issues’. Zero of which were written by trans people themselves.

For comparison, in 2019, The Times wrote 321 articles about trans people & ‘trans issues’. 3 were written by trans people.