The Unforgivable Sin
I thought of this 14 year old chaiwallah, his life, his hopes, his dreams being destroyed, of how his fate was symbolic of the fate of the hundreds of millions sacrificed on the altar of panic.
The other day, I told a friend of my surprise at how 22% of Americans are very worried their children would die or be severely harmed by the coronavirus if they caught it, while the data tell us the risk for a child is in fact minuscule. My friend said he wasn‘t that surprised, for, as he put it, parents worry about their children. We went on to discuss this risk in the context of other possible harms, and in the end agreed this wasn‘t really the proper reaction; children were more likely to die in a car crash, or even just by falling out of bed or down the stairs at home.
But why did my friend initially react the way he did?
In a guest chapter in Dr. Robert Malone‘s new book, Lies My Gov‘t Told Me, security specialist Gavin de Becker discusses how certain dangers become more prominent in our minds, precisely because they are hard to conjure and understand; we tend to focus on the worst case scenario, essentially a highly unrealistic, but also a highly scary possibility. De Becker takes an example from an old interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci to explain this. The subject is AIDS:
„The long incubation period of this disease we may be starting to see, as we‘re seeing virtually, as the months go by, other groups that can be involved, and seeing it in children is really quite disturbing. If the clos econtact of the child is a household contact, perhaps there will be a certain number of individuals who are just living with and in close contact with someone with AIDS or at risk of AIDS who does not necessarily have to have intimate sexual contact or share a needle, but just the ordinary close contact that one sees in normal interpersonal relationships. Now that may be farfetched in a sense that there have been no cases recognized as yet in which individuals have had merely casual contact close to or albeit with an individual with AIDS who for example have gotten AIDS...“
Fauci carries on in the same manner, I‘ll spare my readers the rest of it. But what is he actually saying? In de Becker‘s words: „There have been no cases of AIDS spread by ordinary close contact. But the message people understandably took away from Fauci‘s fear-bomb was quite different: You can catch this disease by less than intimate contact.“ As we all know now, Fauci‘s speculations were completely unfounded, but it was fearmongering like this that drove a prolonged wave of fear of gay men. And as we see, what gives rise to the fear is not the actual message - no spread by ordinary close contact – it is the unfounded, and thus meaningless speculation of possible, might, perhaps ...
Why do we panic over a message that in essence doesn‘t tell us there is anything to panic about? Why do we let unfounded speculation drive us mad with fear, even when the speaker acknowledges no facts support his guesswork („no cases recognized...“)?
As Mattias Desmet explains in The Psychology of Totalitarianism, there is a fundamental difference between the language of humans and the language of animals. „An animal establishes the bond with another animal through the exchange of signs“ Desmet says, and those signs „have a well-established connection to their point of reference ... the signs are generally experienced by the animal as unambiguous and self evident.“ (69) On the contrary, the communication of humans „is full of ambiguities, misunderstandings, and doubts.“ The reason is how the symbols we use „can refer to an infinite number of things, depending on context. For example: The sound image sun refers to something completely different in the sound sequence sunshine than in the sound sequence sundering. Therefore, each word only acquires meaning through another word (or series of words). Furthermore, that other word, in its turn, also needs another word to accquire meaning. And so on to infinity.“ The result of this is that we can never „convey our message unambiguously, and the other can never determine its definitive meaning. ... That‘s the reason why we so often have to search for words, so often struggle with saying what we really want to say.“
The ambiguity in our messaging is part of the human condition. It can never become completely overcome, but we can still limit the consequences it has. We do this through discussion, that‘s how we clarify, how we increase the precision of our messaging. The ability to discuss and to reason is uniquely human; animals convey clear messages to each other; the clarity of their messaging means there is no need for discussion, no need for reasoning.
As humans, we are cursed by the ambiguity of language. But at the same time this very ambiguity underlies our ability to discuss, to reason. It is our ability to reason that allows us to clarify our messaging and our understanding of other people‘s messaging. And reason also makes us capable of scrutinizing statements and exposing logical fallacies. In fact, as Australian journalist David James points out, in a recent Brownstone article, this is key if journalism is ever to get out of the rabbithole it has fallen into, after journalists gave up resisting lies and deception. „To counter the tidal wave of falsity“ James says, „two things suggest themselves. They are the analysis of semantics and the exposing of logical fallacies.“
It takes training and exercise to become good at analyzing complicated cause-effect logic. I know, for my day job is training people to do it. Most people never go through this training, even if we all really should. But out of the two things James suggests, the first is something we should all be able to do, even without any training in logical thinking: We can all try to make sure we understand correctly what we read or hear. „What does this really mean?“ is the first question we must always ask when reading a text. Looking at Fauci‘s text quoted above, it contains at least two statements. One is a factual statement: There have been no cases of contagion spread by ordinary close contact. The second is a hypothetical statement: Contagion spread by ordinary close contact may be possible.
Once we have established what the message means, the next step is to ask: „Is it true?“ Is the statement supported by valid evidence? Out of those two statements, the first is supported by facts, the second is not. This means the first statement is valid, the second isn’t. We won‘t catch AIDS by hugging a patient. Your gay uncle isn‘t dangerous.
This is how rigorous reasoning helps us weed out wrong and irrelevant statements, how it helps us distinguish between fact and fiction, based on how the purported facts fit with what we already know for sure, and how they add up; if they are coherent; if they are relevant in the context. But if we do not think, we react to unfounded fearmongering, precisely in the way de Becker describes.
Shortly before the Covid panic struck, I spent a month in India. While there, I visited a small village in Gujarat to take part in the inauguration of a school library we had been supporting. Everyone I met with, from the Dalit farmhands up to the mayor, agreed on one thing; the importance of education. A couple of months later, the village school had closed; all schools in India had closed. And this wasn‘t all. The poor, who lived hand to mouth in the cities, had to leave; they were forbidden to make a living. The 14 year old kid who used to bring tea to our office left. We haven‘t heard from him since.
Many perished on their way to the countryside, from hunger, from sickness, from exhaustion. Those who made it to their villages were often barred entry. Why? Because of the mad fear that had gripped the population, just like everywhere else in the world. Even if in India in 2020, mortality from the coronavirus was minuscule.
When I first heard the news, I thought of this 14 year old chaiwallah, his life, his hopes, his dreams being destroyed, I thought of of how his fate was symbolic of the fate of the hundreds of millions sacrificed on the altar of panic. This became a turning point for me personally. I went all in to fight the panic, fight the fear. Having clearly envisaged the devastation that was in the cards, I felt I had no choice.
For panic on this scale is dangerous, it is devastating. And in the end, there is no difference between burning witches out of fear of sorcery, and locking down whole societies due to wildly exaggerated fear of a virus. In both cases, unfounded fear leads to utterly self-centered behaviour, it prompts us to ignore others, or worse, to sacrifice them, in a misguided attempt at protecting ourselves. And in both cases, people lose their lives.
At the heart of panic lies despair. Despair, in the Christian sense, is when one gives up the hope for salvation. This is why despair is the sin that cannot be forgiven.
What would be the equivalent for the modern atheist? When someone decides not to have children, out of fear that the world is coming to an end; this is despair. When someone severs all ties with other people, ceases to take part in life, out of fear of a virus; that person despairs.
Religious or atheist, despair is when we give up on life. It is a negation of life. This is why it is an unforgivable sin. And now we clearly see the moral importance of critical thinking: Our language is incomplete, our messaging is ambiguous. Unlike the animal that knows for sure, we never know for sure, we always need more information, we need discussion, deliberation; we must talk and we must think. Without thinking, we succumb to irrational reaction to whatever hits us, ignoring all but ourselves and the object of our fear; we succumb to despair, we abandon life. This is why, in the end, thinking is a moral duty.
It is in this light that we must view Dr. Fauci‘s fearmongering in the 1980s and how it severely harmed an already ostracized minority. It is in this light also, that we must judge the authorities all over the world who relentlessly pumped out panic-laden, often knowingly false propaganda during the past three years, in order to provoke fear and despair, while deliberately silencing and censoring all attempts at promoting a more balanced and healthy view; how they stifled critical thinking. And it is in this light that we must view the disastrous consequences of this conduct, and how it first and foremost harmed the young, the poor; our smallest brethern.
This is their crime of crimes, their unforgivable sin.
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I thought this comment about “Ecolo-Apocalytism“ interesting:
"Despair, in the Christian sense, is when one gives up the hope for salvation. This is why despair is the sin that cannot be forgiven. What would be the equivalent for the modern atheist? When someone decides not to have children, out of fear that the world is coming to an end; this is despair. "
This reminds me of an observation by the American atheist and novelist, Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut relates that in his youth he had been an optimistic believer in Progress, confident that science was leading us to Nirvana. All the great mysteries of life would be solved. But this initial optimism was laid low by the harsh realities of war and everyday life and led to pessimism and a deep questioning of Enlightenment dogma. As it turned out, in his twenty-first year Vonnegut was a first-hand witness to the firebombing and annihilation of Dresden in Germany during World War II. He notes with irony that his generation witnessed scientific truth being dropped on Hiroshima. Vonnegut confessed, in a speech at a high school graduation (published in Wampeters), that as a result of these events he then had an intimate conversation with himself and provides a glimpse
"Hey, Corporal Vonnegut," I said to myself, "maybe you were wrong to be an optimist. Maybe pessimism is the thing." I have been a consistent pessimist ever since, with a few exceptions. In order to persuade my wife to marry me, of course, I had to promise her that the future would be heavenly. And then I had to lie about the future again every time I thought she should have a baby. And then I had to lie to her again every time she threatened to leave me because I was too pessimistic. I saved our marriage many times by exclaiming, "Wait!; Wait! I see light at the end of the tunnel at last!" And I wish I could bring light to your tunnels today. My wife begged me to bring you light, but there is no light. Everything is going to become unimaginably worse, and never get better again. If I lied to you about that, you would sense that I'd lied to you, and that would be another cause for gloom. We have enough causes for gloom. (p. 162)
I know that millions of dollars have been spent to produce this splendid graduating class, and that the main hope of your teachers was, once they got through with you, that you would no longer be superstitious. I'm sorry I have to undo that now. I beg you to believe in the most ridiculous superstition of all: that humanity is at the center of the universe, the fulfiller or the frustrator of the grandest dreams of God Almighty. If you can believe that, and make others believe it, then there might be hope for us. Human beings might stop treating each other like garbage, might begin to treasure and protect each other instead. Then it might be all right to have babies again. Many of you will have babies anyway, if you're anything like me. To quote the poet Schiller: "Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain." About astrology and palmistry: They are good because they make people feel vivid and full of possibilities. They are communism at its best. Everybody has a birthday and almost everybody has a palm.(pp. 163-64)
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. (1975) Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, Dell Publishing Co. Inc, New York 238 p.
And on a further note Vonnegut provides a thought-provoking observation on the cognitive dissonance implied by the totalitarian mindset that is worth consideration.
I have never seen a more sublime demonstration of the totalitarian mind, a mind which might be likened unto a system of gears whose teeth have been filed off at random. Such a snaggle-toothed thought machine, driven by a standard or even substandard libido, whirls with the jerky, noisy, gaudy pointlessness of a cuckoo clock in Hell. The boss G-man concluded wrongly that there were no teeth on the gears in the mind of Jones. You're completely crazy, he said. Jones wasn't completely crazy. The dismaying thing about the classic totalitarian mind is that any given gear, though mutilated, will have at its circumference unbroken sequences of teeth that are immaculately, that are exquisitely machined. Hence the cuckoo clock in Hell keeping perfect time for eight minutes and thirty-three seconds, jumping ahead fourteen minutes, keeping perfect time for six seconds, jumping ahead two seconds, keeping perfect time for two hours and one second, then jumping ahead a year. The missing teeth, of course, are simple, obvious truths, truths available and comprehensible even to ten-year-olds, in most cases. That was how a household as contradictory as one composed of Jones, Father Keeley, Vice-Bundesfuehrer Krapptaer, and the Black Fuehrer could exist in relative harmony. That was how my father-in-law could contain in one mind an indifference toward slave women and love for a blue vase. That was how Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz, could alternate over the loudspeakers of Auschwitz great music and calls for corpse-carriers. That was how Nazi Germany could sense no important difference between civilization and hydrophobia. That is the closest I can come to explaining the legions, the nations of lunatics I've seen in my time. (pp. 162-163)
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. (1961) Mother Night. Dell Publishing New York
No ambiguity whatsoever in the past 3 years of irrationality, censorship, deplatforming, demonizing & otherwise completely shutting down any ability to weigh other views. And it’s ongoing as some places are still flogging the shots, claiming masks work, etc