Coronavirus…… the reality? pic.twitter.com/JGwvgiqsY1
— Tony (@Mrtdogg) May 8, 2020
You may lead a horse to water,
But you cannot make him drink.
You may stuff a man with knowledge,
But you cannot make him think.
–Joseph A. Altsheler
(Thanks to C-Marie, one of our regulars, for the poem reference.)
Log onto Twitter with a mobile phone and the app at the top will (at times) suggest to you which approved sites you can go to for COVID-19 information. Google does the same thing when searching for coronavirus related topics. Doubtless other platforms are doing the same. (If you know, leave a comment.)
How do they know which information is best?
A better question is, how do they know which information is worst? Because many platforms are hard at whacking material they don’t approve of.
Susan Wojcicki, the chief of YouTube, was on CNN announcing which videos would be purged. Anything that is “problematic” would be “removed.” Anything “unsubstantiated” would be classed as a “violation of our terms of service” and would be removed. “Anything that would go against World Health Organizations would be a violation of our policy” and would be removed.
Which WHO? The WHO changed the narrative more than once. On 14 January, they tweeted “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China”. They later changed their minds.
Wojcicki was true to her word, though. Many videos were purged which questioned the official narrative, even as that narrative shifted.
The most spectacular case was of doctors Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi. They held a press conference on KERO News 23, a local TV show in Bakersfield, California, a video that was picked up on YouTube across several channels.
The doctors’ rather dry message was that, given data from official Californian sources, and backed up by what they were seeing in their own practice, that Californians had “a 0.03 chance of dying from COVID”. They asked whether that low rate necessitated sheltering in place and the locking down of businesses. Good question.
YouTube answered by purging the video. It cropped up several times on the platform, and was whack-a-moled each time. As the saying goes, nothing can die on the Internet, and so the video still shows up in my places, including the original news site. In a humorous twist, surely not foreseen by the officious Wojcicki, the purging itself made the news, and provided the doctors with more publicity than they ever would have had without the meddling.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg went on ABC news explaining why his company attempted to memory hole an event page for a protest against government overreach in Michigan. Zuckerberg said that kind of thing was “harmful misrepresentation” and he would have none of it.
His move backfired for Facebook, too. Not that the exposure of their censorship caused them to rethink their position. According to Michigan Live, a flack at Facebook justified the purge saying “events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook.”
Does that mean Facebook will be purging all events pages for protests against executive orders and other actions taken by the Trump administration?
Of course it does not. It is stupid question. It is stupid because everybody knows the answer. Facebook, along with most other Big Tech platforms, will do all they can to support progressive government intrusion. Nobody expects otherwise.
This is not a satisfying answer, though. Saying Big Tech is on the left, even though obviously true, doesn’t explain why, and it doesn’t explain why they went into extra-special hyper-overreaction with coronavirus.
Big Tech is peopled with experts. Smart people on the whole. The days of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Susan Wojcicki working out of garages is over, however (the first office of Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin was Wojcicki’s garage). These days the vast majority of software engineers and tech business leaders have their expertise credentialed by institutions of higher learning. Obviously, professors, researchers, and bureaucrats at places like the WHO are themselves likewise credentialed.
There is nothing wrong with these credentials, per se. They really do, for the most part, certify advanced knowledge in a field. An increasingly narrow field for the majority, however.
Now Wojcicki is herself an elitist, very knowledgeable about the workings of on-line video streaming services. She spent so much time becoming a specialist in her field, that it’s likely she doesn’t know much outside her area in any depth. If she’s like most non-medical elites, she wouldn’t know the important epidemiological differences between a coronavirus and a rhinovirus (both cause colds). Most people don’t know because most don’t care. Before this year it wasn’t an interesting question, except to medical elites.
Yet YouTube decided to become an arbiter on just these kinds of questions. It doesn’t seem likely that the company had a team of virologists, pulmonologists, and epidemiologists on staff to help them consider which videos should be purged and which might be kept and given a boost. So Wojcicki had to appeal to outside sources to make these decisions for YouTube. Which?
Why not “the best”? The “best” would be that group with the highest credential. That’s the WHO.
This is not necessarily a bad idea. The WHO is staffed, as we agreed, with credentialed experts of the very kind Wojcicki was seeking. Why not put the burden on them to identify good from bad information? If the WHO turns out to be wrong, YouTube has a great excuse. If they turn out to be right, and they should because of all of those credentials, then YouTube will have made the right decision.
That’s not quite right, however, because it wasn’t that YouTube just promoted pro-WHO videos. It’s that they purged videos they thought went against the WHO’s narrative of the day. They went beyond promotion into active censorship. Just like Facebook, they decided that only pro-elite content was allowable, and anti-elite content must be axed.
This can only happen if the elites at YouTube decided the WHO could not be wrong, not in any important way, because the WHO was staffed with fellow credentialed experts. That the WHO was wrong, blatantly wrong, on earlier questions was judged to be inconsequential. They were an authority, and that’s all that mattered. Not just an authority. But an organization staffed with intellectual brothers and sisters.
We see this behavior among a good fraction of our elites. Narrow specialization has forced the well credentialed to club together. This is why the realm of science and technology is rapidly becoming like the art world.
Some big name “creates” a new “work”. Perhaps a brick smeared with the feces of an animal on the endangered list, or whatever (if you don’t like this, substitute any major-award winning similar work from the last twenty years). Now this is asinine and childish and it is no way art. But the artist is a big name.
People with too much money, smart people, will look at the work and be afraid they do not understand the point being made. They will assume all the critics praising the new work, all smart people, know something they don’t. They will begin to praise, too. If the new work becomes a “thing”, none will ever dare question it. Large sums will change hands to own it, so as to brag about it, so that the owner might feel he really is part of the club.
Which he is! His purchase found purchase in the realm of art elites. The more time our man spends in this club, the more he will find himself liking the art which at one time he knew he didn’t understand. Especially if he spends a lot of money, he will discover that he has himself become an expert. This is not meant condescendingly. He will be a genuine expert in the art world. He will be able to speak intelligibly about the subtleties of the complex interplay of the natural spirits of mixtures of clay, sand, and lime baked under the life-giving sun and elided with the endeavors of some noble animal that has been stressed to the point of extinction.
And he will react in horror when an outsider says “You’re holding a brick smeared with shit.” If he was an executive at Facebook, he’d have this philistine banned.
This is only an analogy, but it’s a good one. Well credentialed experts are uncomfortable questioning other credentialed elites about their areas of expertise. They worry they might be wrong if they point out what they think is a flaw. Often times they are wrong. It’s easier, and far less embarrassing, to keep your mouth shut and defer to authority.
This deference is usually okay, too, because experts usually are right. Trouble starts when an expert presents a befouled brick and tries to pass it off as science or good policy. Then, because questioning the veracity of the work of fellow club members is considered rude, error calcifies. It’s made worse because expertise has become narrower, making it harder to question in principle, and more difficult to spot or question mistakes.
A second expert in different fields will defer to the first, assuming the first expert’s results are true. A third expert uses the second’s derived results. And so on. A web of results across a multitude of fields is built. It all fits nicely together. This happens all the time, and at increasingly faster rates.
Yet pull one thread the whole thing collapses. This is why when an outsider comes along and picks at a strand, the web-builders club together and scream “Denier!” at the outsider. The braying is especially abusive if the outsider is himself uncredentialed or without position, and when the web is inhabited at the center by spiders from the highest levels. The outsider is a real threat. That’s why he’s not argued with. Instead, there will be calls for the outside’s ouster (outster?). His videos will be banned. His work will be labeled “dangerous”. Which it is, to those who have found a home in the web.
This is what happened to Erickson and Massihi. They had credentials, but not the right credentials. They weren’t club members. All the best people were deferring to elites in the government, which was deemed unquestionable. That deference by definition made what the government said true and what these doctors said false.
These doctors had to be stopped before they polluted the minds of the great uncredentialed masses. You never know what these poor benighted people will believe! Fake cures, bad statistics, even conspiracy theories! Like how elites get together to decide which content to purge? Well, not all conspiracies are theories.
The uncredentialed too often question their betters. They actually protest! They are too easily influenced. They certainly can’t decide what is best for them about their own health. They’re not doctors, after all. It would be best if they were looked after and protected from the harms of free speech. The best way to do that, say our elites, is to remove speech that might confuse them.
This works, to a certain extent. Many who don’t know much suddenly think they know a lot. Many think they are as expert as the experts because they have adopted the experts’ viewpoints. They all knew, as I said earlier, the right amount of ventilators to have on hand in every hospital in the land. Uncertainty is discouraged. The people become self-monitoring; they help police their neighbors, even to the extent of snitching on them. Many in the coronavirus crisis became the worst kind of scolds. Just one example: experts said 6 feet—not 5, not 7—was the distance to remain to adhere to social distancing. Many behaved just like YouTube with the WHO and treated this as gospel.
This is exactly the behavior our elites want to see. People like Zuckerberg and Wojcicki, and a great number of politicians, want to create an Expertopia. This is where the best people get to decide the right and true and final answers to all our questions. We won’t need all that other confusing information, which will be duly purged. We’ll be given what we need to know. We’ll be able to root out deniers. Then life will be good.
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