Jordan Peterson is a woo-merchant

Lately, on my YouTube channel, I’ve been plagued with Peterson fanatics suddenly popping up on old videos and leaving weird, unfocused comments like “Strawman!” and “Fallacies!”, without bothering to tell me what I’ve strawmanned or what my fallacy was. But then, if you’re a Peterson cultist, you’ve probably already got serious logical deficits. So anyway, for this week’s Bad Science Sunday (it’s early, but calendars are merely a social construct anyway), I decided to infuriate them even more. It was fun.

As usual, I end with a plea to subscribe to my channel, or to sign up for my Patreon, but also with a request that everyone pray to Skaði, Goddess of Winter, because it’s almost the end of November and we have no snow on the ground, and it’s freaking me out.

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John Cleese disappoints me

This is just sad.

It’s not even creative or original or good — it’s just a variant of the creaky dumb “I want to be an attack helicopter” “joke” that lazy right-wing comedians have been dumping on us. I guess that puts him in a particular category, a specific “social construct” if you will, that I don’t find very interesting, but good on him for being his true self.

By the way, it’s interesting his three parameters — a nationality, a profession, and a gender identity — are all social constructs as well, and are achievable with a truly deep commitment and dedication to a goal. Not that I think he’s seriously interested. He’s too wrapped up in his current identity as an indignant male-presenting British ex-comedian.


Here’s a photo of Cambodian police women. Cleese should stop fetishizing them.

Cory Doctorow, +1, ☆☆☆☆

Doctorow makes a useful distinction I wish I’d grasped years ago, the difference between persuasion and targeting.

The problem is that we’re confusing automated persuasion with automated targeting. Laughable lies about Brexit, Mexican rapists, and creeping Sharia law didn’t convince otherwise sensible people that up was down and the sky was green.

Rather, the sophisticated targeting systems available through Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other Big Tech ad platforms made it easy to find the racist, xenophobic, fearful, angry people who wanted to believe that foreigners were destroying their country while being bankrolled by George Soros.

Remember that elections are generally knife-edge affairs, even for politicians who’ve held their seats for decades with slim margins: 60% of the vote is an excellent win. Remember, too, that the winner in most races is “none of the above,” with huge numbers of voters sitting out the election. If even a small number of these non-voters can be motivated to show up at the polls, safe seats can be made contestable. In a tight race, having a cheap way to reach all the latent Klansmen in a district and quietly inform them that Donald J. Trump is their man is a game-changer.

Cambridge Analytica are like stage mentalists: they’re doing something labor-intensive and pretending that it’s something supernatural. A stage mentalist will train for years to learn to quickly memorize a deck of cards and then claim that they can name your card thanks to their psychic powers. You never see the unglamorous, unimpressive memorization practice. Cambridge Analytica uses Facebook to find racist jerks and tell them to vote for Trump and then they claim that they’ve discovered a mystical way to get otherwise sensible people to vote for maniacs.

I’m thinking about all those times I agreed to debates with creationists, and I’d show up at the venue to see church buses lined up outside and a crowd of people clutching Bibles filling the seats. There was no hope that I’d convince them (OK, maybe I deluded myself that I’d win over a few), and really, my role was to play the heel at a fixed match, to draw in the congregation to listen to the face, who got all the adulation. That really got to me at one event, held in a fairly swanky hotel ballroom, where afterwards the preacher who’d brought me in told the audience that my antagonist was staying in a suite there, that they were going to have a dinner with select donors, and that he’d be staying in town to speak at the church the next few days. Then he took me aside, gave me a check for $100, and told me there was a Motel 6 just down the road.

The creationists were smarter than I was. They knew these events weren’t intended to inform or educate; the debate was all about rallying a crowd, drawing in more true believers who wanted to see that university egghead taught a lesson — and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t crushed, because they’d gather together all the conservative Christians and they’d find each other. It’s both sides, too. Debates at atheist events are also a sham, primarily about grooming a particular audience rather than teaching anything new.

Doctorow is focused on politics and the media, but it’s the same old story. The goal isn’t to persuade, it’s to align people with a gang.

He also sees through the game of advertising. How often have you seen a stupid, repetitive commercial and thought to yourself, “What a waste of time, I’m too smart to be fooled by this BS.” Advertisers don’t care. They’re just trying to efficiently glean out the few who are fooled, and tools like Facebook are there to make it easier to sort the profitable wheat from the chaff (and in this game, you’re the chaff.)

It’s fashionable to treat the dysfunctions of social media as the result of the naivete of early technologists, who failed to foresee these outcomes. The truth is that the ability to build Facebook-like services is relatively common. What was rare was the moral recklessness necessary to go through with it.

The thing is, it’s always been obvious that by spying on internet users, you could improve the efficacy of advertising. That’s not so much because spying gives you fantastic insights into new ways to convince people to buy products as it is a tribute to just how ineffective marketing is. When an ad’s expected rate of success is well below one percent, doubling or tripling its efficacy still leaves you with a sub-one-percent conversion rate.

But it was also obvious from the start that amassing huge dossiers on everyone who used the internet could create real problems for all of society that would dwarf the minute gains these dossiers would realize for advertisers.

Now look at the recent elections in this country. Donald Trump didn’t persuade anyone — he can’t, because he’s a bumbling incompetent — he just used the tools provided by media like Facebook and Twitter to pick out and target the 70 million who could be fooled effectively and get them to think that Trump is the widget they must buy, and got them all engaged in a great big gang that would make Trump the focus of their identity.

Great.

We may have gotten rid of Trump, but those 70 million are still out there, and Facebook still has extensive dossiers on enough of them to steer them in whatever directions Zuckerberg feels is most profitable.

Just when you think you’ve seen the worst, along comes Crowder

He is a truly vile human being.

YouTube will do nothing about this, because Crowder has 5 million subscribers. That in itself is bizarre — 5 million people watch this unfunny, bigoted hack?

I hope Farhad Manjoo’s family survives the holidays

The NY Times published a dangerously goofy piece by Manjoo that went through the scientific advice that said you should stay home to avoid spreading the pandemic, and then concluded with a mind-boggling declaration that he was going to ignore the evidence and go visit his elderly parents anyway. It’s a bizarre article that starts off informative and smart, and then falls off a cliff into wishful self-delusion. I thought about writing a bit about it, since it’s an incredibly vivid example of smart-stupid.

I’m saved some effort, though, because Rebecca Watson has already dealt with it.

I do hope his family is OK, but I also hope he is now locked down in quarantine before he goes casually gallivanting off to spread his viruses blithely with anyone because he wants to.

An irresistible headline

It really makes you want to read the whole thing, doesn’t it?

Except, when you actually read the story, it’s not that interesting. The “rise from graves” is just masses of shallowly buried mink corpses bloating and bulging up to the surface. Unpleasant, yes, but these are not zombie mustelids stalking Denmark. The “mutated form” bit is also not a big deal — viruses are constantly mutating. The real concern isn’t even mentioned in that story. The mutation is just a useful marker, as near as I can tell, that allows them to trace patterns of infection, and 12 people have been found to be infected with COVID carrying the same marker. That suggests that we could have zoonotic transmission from mink to humans (or vice versa). Also, about a fifth of the Danish mink farms have the disease among their animals, which says it’s spreading fast among the captive mink, and now we’re seeing infections and death in mink farms in Utah and Wisconsin. It also seems the virus is deadly to mink.

The Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (UVDL) completed necropsies on several dead animals from the two mink farms after the mink operations reported unusually high mortality rates in their mink populations. The samples were tested at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Washington State University. From there, the samples were sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories for final conformational testing. The affected mink farms have been completely quarantined to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Denmark is going to kill 15 million mink to contain the virus. It sounds like a catastrophe for the ethical treatment of animals, but I would remind you that all 15 million were already doomed — they were raised to be slaughtered for their fur, so this is only accelerating their death…and depriving mink farmers of their profit. On the bright side, it may lead to the demise of a particularly brutal kind of animal abuse.

The plot of this drama is building rapidly to an obvious crisis

You know what the current, defeated president is watching right now? OAN. We should be concerned. That’s not a news network, it’s a propaganda organ for far-right lies, and they’re feeding his delusions.

We got through the election all right, but I worry about the spectacle that’s going to occur on 20 January. Trump believes and is loudly proclaiming that he won the election, and OAN is stirring up his angry mob. They’re going to show up for Biden’s inauguration, they’re heavily armed, and even if the Secret Service and the cops manage to winkle the wannabe-tyrant out of the oval office without needing to call in the marines, there may be blood in the streets.

We’re watching an irresponsible “news” network feeding the paranoid delusions of a madman. Are there no laws regulating the accuracy of journalism? Not that OAN practices anything remotely like journalism.

What about an online winter celebration?

Freethoughtblogs is doing it again — we’re have another fundraiser, scheduled for 5 December, with various events with the wealth of talent here on our blog network scheduled. Take a look! We’ll be filling in that page with links and YouTube videos as we assemble the various pieces of our day.

One of the events scheduled is an anniversary celebration: it will have been a year since that ridiculous SLAPP suit by Richard Carrier against Amy Frank-Skiba, Stephanie Zvan, me, Freethoughtblogs, and the Orbit collapsed in a cloud of petty stinking pity from that defeated troll, and also a nasty burden of legal debt for us. That’s why we have these fundraisers, so that maybe can all get out from under that, eventually.

Donations are greatly appreciated! You can make PayPal donations to our Freethoughtblogs account or to my personal account — they all go straight to paying off our debt. You can also join my Patreon, and chip in as little as a dollar a month; that’s also being applied entirely to our legal fund.