Fucking hippies – ranting against the irrational

Full disclosure is required before I begin this post/rant. I used to be a hippy. Okay, there, I said it. I have in the past indulged in each and every one of the following activities:

Had long hair
Owned a camper van
Practiced devil sticks and diablo
Had my birthsign tattooed on my arm (Pisces in case you’re wondering)
Convinced myself that reincarnation was real
Taken my share of hallucinogens
Smoked a lot of weed (until hedgehog terrorists put me off)

I’m not ashamed of these things because, let’s face it, they’re part of what made me who I am today. Let’s just say they’re object lessons in how you can get away with doing things you shouldn’t in the name of experimentation and capricious youth. Today my older, wiser self looks back with what can almost be described as pity for the poor misguided wretch that was my former self.

I say pity because I have a tendency to be kinder towards my own mistakes than I am towards those of others. A tad unfair perhaps, obviously very hypocritical, but I just can’t help it. I’ve safeguarded my mind with the holy trinity of rational discourse, skepticism and critical thinking – the best defence against all kinds of woo. They can be good friends but also occasionally harsh to their enemies🙂

Anyway, back to the point.

For some reason – and I have no idea what said reason is – I have suddenly found myself in contact with purveyors of all kinds of woo, masters of mystical thinking, stauch defenders of devious charlatans of all stripes. I don’t know what it is but for some reason Thailand, perhaps all of Southeast Asia, seems to be a beacon for those with a tendency to forget Richard Feynman’s sage advice to “keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out”.

Now, when I get on these topics, whether invited to the fray or not, I can become somewhat vociferous, if not outright vicious, in hunting down the chicanery and spearing it on the pike of rationality but, unfortunately, many people view a perfectly reasonable argument as a personal attack; especially if said argument results in the untimely demise of their most dearly held beliefs. They’ll flail about in the sea of their own muddled thinking, desperately launching logical fallacies and sharpened straw men in a final, futile fusillade, before cursing your name to the heavens and retreating to the comforting depths of self-deception.

Long story short, I bite my tongue. It’s almost worn away to a stump now. But now it’s time to to vent.

What kinds of doggerel have been confronting me on my travels? Let’s have a quick rundown…

1 – Vaccines cause autism

One word. No. There is not, nor has there ever been a shred of proof that this was the case. Study after study has failed to find a link between the two and the only studies even vaguely suggesting any link have been so poorly performed that in many cases even the authors of the relevant papers have disassociated themselves from any findings. In the UK the most prominent purveyor of this vile fantasy (Why vile? More on that in a second) was recently struck off the medical register for misconduct on his most (in)famous trial – Google “Andrew Wakefield” for more details, his case is one of deceit, incompetence and borderline child abuse.

Why do I refer to this particular lie as vile? Simple. Those who peddle it are directly responsible for child deaths. That’s right Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, I’m looking at you. Such is the hysteria raised by these brainless wonders and their noble crusade against the medical advances which have doubled our life expectancies over the past century that vaccination rates have plummeted among the more suggestible of the sheep out there. The result? Herd immunity is vanishing and children are already dying. Search for info on whooping cough deaths in California, that’s just for starters – http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com has more up-to-date figures.

2 – GM foods cause cancer

Erm, okay. First off – all foods cause cancer. It’s unavoidable. To all you vegetarians/vegans out there – plants DO NOT WANT TO BE EATEN. They have been evolving alongside us animals for millions of years, constantly conjuring up novel ways to fend off our fiendish attacks, these defences usually being physical (thorns, etc) or chemical (pesticides). Every bit of fruit and veg you eat is packed with poison, the poor plant’s last-ditch effort to kill you before you kill it. Thankfully for us most of these attacks are aimed at somewhat smaller prey – insects and the like – so the dose you’ll get from munching on a carrot isn’t enough to give you so much as a headache. However, over time and the course of many, many meals, the constant presence of such toxins has an inevitably adverse effect on the system. Some cells suffer a little DNA damage and forgot how to kill themselves when their useful lifespan comes to an end. They just keep dividing and dividing until BANG!, you’re felled by some malignant menace of a tumour.

So I’m not going to deny that GM foods cause cancer – they very much do but only in the exact same way as hippy-friendly foods. There has been no study linking GM to any increase in cancer rate over and above the background level, not one. If anything the very process of genetic modification could, potentially, rid our foods of the natural pesticides which cause us so much trouble in the first place!

I must end this one by relating the particular discussion I had on this topic with an ex-flatmate over here who responded to my skepticism with tales of a series of studies carried out by some lone renegade in Minnesota, a vigilante scientist who was hunted down by the GM gods and all his findings burnt. Except somehow the empty of brain seem to locate them easy enough. Okay, here’s a question. If this saviour really did uncover The Truth, and it really is so damning, then why does my government not know about it? The fuckheads who’ve been in charge for the past decade and a bit – Labour and Tory alike – have pursued particularly vicious vendettas against GM, using every bit of ammo they can find. Why not this supposed bombshell? Perhaps it’s made of the same manure used to grow the organic crops? Just a suggestion…

3 – 9/11 was an inside job

Seriously? Excuse me for a second.

Sorry, just had to go and weep for the future of the human race. I still find it hard to believe that there are people out there – good, friendly, sincere people – who seriously entertain the notion that one of the most incompetent administrations in American history managed to orchestrate a cover-up spanning the whole of the US armed forces, the air traffic control network, the media and probably most NY-based businesses as well. A cover-up which would be blown apart by the smallest piece of evidence, one which would, if exposed, probably bring an already weakened USA to its political and financial knees.

I’m not going to go into this one at length for the following reason. Almost ever single piece of ‘evidence’ for the conspiracy which I have personally heard, be it over here or back home, has been recycled from the ‘documentary’ Loose Change, available to view for free on Google Videos or from any torrent site. I highly recommend watching it, you’ll never see a better tutorial on how to spot a logical fallacy that that movie. However be sure to also follow up with a search online for the episode of Democracy Now! featuring a debate between Loose Change’s creators and the writers of an article in Popular Mechanics which thoroughly debunked their claims. They might highlight any of the obvious parts you missed – some of the quote mining, cherry-picking of evidence, etc.

Rounding this one out is a wonderful quote from Rosie O’Donnell (I previously thought it was Oprah who said this, it’s her kind of crazy) relating to the popular theory about how the towers couldn’t possibly have collapsed because of the planes alone. She said, and I quote, that for the towers to have collapsed the way it was claimed it would have to be “the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel — it is physically impossible.” I’m not kidding. Those words actually came out of her mouth. Does she honestly think find steel lying in the ground in perfectly girder-shaped lumps? This quote is pretty much on a par with the rest of the musings surrounding this little theory.

Anyhoo…

So why does this part of the world, or maybe just this profession, seem to attract the less discerning of my fellow humans? I mean I just scratched the surface with those three topics and I’m just waiting for someone to tell me that the moon landings were a hoax as well. What brings them to my vicinity? Well I suppose there’s one obvious answer – travelers have a tendency to be fond of a toke and there’s nothing like weed to open your mind to dangerous levels, the levels where you start leaving a trail of grey matter behind you wherever you go. Hey, I’ve been there – pot and hallucinogens, remember?

With others it might just be the need to believe in something, anything, just to keep going. Religion fills that hole in many people but some can’t seem to handle reality without it  so they’ll cling to anything, any narrative which can give them that kind of fervour, a cause to rally behind, a lone good guy to oppose the marauding forces of Big Pharma, The Establishment, or whoever the bogeyman of the day is. The traveling lifestyle seems to appeal to these folks, the quest to ‘find yourself’ (I always just use a mirror, it’s pretty accurate) proving some kind of an aid in the search for meaning. (Note – I personally think that attempting to assign any meaning or purpose to life beyond that which we make for ourselves to be a category error, akin to asking what colour an emotion is).

Let’s not forget age as a factor as well. Sometimes I forget how old I am compared to the average teacher in this neck of the woods. Some of  them are an entire soldier younger than me (i.e. 16 years), in other words they’re literally young enough to be my own kids. Fuck, that hurts to write. I guess I should keep in mind that experience is actually worth a lot when it comes to these things – maybe a thin veneer of the cynicism which almost inevitably comes with age helps the bullshit filter to do its job properly.

The final option is less pleasant but has to be said anyway. Some folk simply have no concept of questioning what people tell them, asking for evidence, seeking out logic in an argument. I won’t use the word ‘stupid’ here but they definitely missed the part at school where we learned to think for ourselves.

Either way, they’re here and  they’re here to stay, so I’m just going to go on biting my tongue till there’s nothing left to bite. I’ll marvel at how people can belive such crazy things and use the time to reflect on the wonders of the human brain – functioning and otherwise. Every now and then I’ll gently tap them on the shoulders and try to steer them towards a more skeptical course but in the end I’ll just say live and let live.

After all, life would be so much more dull without them, wouldn’t it?

(PS – That last part does NOT apply to the vaccine quacks. There’s a special circle of hell reserved for child-killers.)

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