Saturday, October 30, 2021


I was on the trash-pickup crew for the co-op Wednesday, a job I enjoy. There is a 15-minute break in the garage while the grounds manager drives the truck to the town dump.  When he returns, we cover the park again, picking up the recycling. Television service and classic cars are the two favored topics of conversation. Not mine, but I'll play along easily. Several of the older guys here own a restored Mustang or some such, and all of them have invested money in their TV screens and other equipment. They were grousing about whether it was better to get a dish, or to switch cable providers, and they talked openly about sharing Netflix passwords with their children, jailbreaking firesticks without regard to whether they were watching copyrighted material, and other workarounds to avoid paying for stuff.  I only know the rudiments of what is legal and what's not, as we have not had TV since 1979.

But what struck me was the repeated use of the word "they," especially by one guy. "They always screw us on the cost, I don't mind screwing them back." "They've been overcharging us for stuff for years.  I don't see how they get away with it." The they, when you break it down, seems to be "big companies that charge money to provide equipment or content that I watch on my screen." That these are different companies in different decades, even different industries, is not part of their schema.  It's "they." Note that this cannot fairly be called paranoia, but it has some aspects of paranoid thinking.  I do believe we have a certain baseline level of mood, which floats around a bit because of circumstances. It seems probable that lifetime events could move the propensity for depression or anxiety up or down. Yet I now believe that baseline is much more solid than I used to even ten years ago (certainly twenty). 

Even though if you challenged them that these were not any sort of united group - which they certainly know and could probably describe even better than I could - they would not modify their view much. They're all the same.  They've got you over a barrel and they can charge whatever they want.  It's a good thing to screw them right back.

I used to see this working at the hospital. People would get admitted and refuse to answer questions, saying "You know all this already.  Just look it up and don't bother me." It was hard to convince them that we did not have access to what the police reports were saying about them, or even if they had a criminal record. (We did get notified if someone was a registered sex offender or if they had an outstanding warrant, though we were not told the specifics in either case.) This was even more pronounced when children were admitted. Parents would assume we knew what was happening at the school, in the juvenile justice system, in the community agencies. And they were angry at it all. It was all of us, THEY, who were ruining their child, or at least not "giving him the help that he needs." That not only were all these agencies not in cahoots, but were sometimes quite opposed in their assessments of the situation was foreign to them. We might listen to a description by parents about a first-time admission and say after the conference call "I'd like to hear what the special ed coordinator/JPPO/therapist has to say. She is leaving things out." But we were also very prepared to say "This school district is not doing its job.  They just want to punish the kid." Or"That kid needs a different therapist. Where the f- did they find this clown?"

There is no grand collection of "agencies" that is acting on you or your child. We have to get permission to talk to them, and if you don't give it, we don't know it.*

Often this is merely pitiable, of people who have a terrible illness and just don't understand how systems work, or a kid with frightening behaviors and no one who seems to have any solution. Even if they are angry and unreasonable, you try to put yourself in their shoes and give the best service you can.  Life is hard, and ridiculously hard for some people.  You want to help them negotiate their way through. Yet others do have some understanding of systems.  Our nightmare patients and parents are physicians themselves, or psychologists, or attorneys, or elected officials who understand systems quite well and know what buttons to push. Yet amazingly, many of these also have a "they" mentality. To them it is all connected in spirit somehow.  The World is arrayed against them, has victimised them for decades, refuses to listen to them. Sympathy for such folks is different. One retains the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God pity, speculating on whether we would do any better in their shoes. Yet we also know that these people are dangerous. They ruin their own lives or the lives of their family members. They spread crazy medical and psychological information, dissuading people from getting the treatment they need because they have a Better Idea, usually based these days on "natural" solutions, though alternative medicine and cockamamie treatments can take many forms. The Scientologists are merely the worst of the lot, not the onlies. They poison the well against the only people who have a track record of helping at all, even if THEY (we, me) have the usual percentage of pricks, cranks, bitches, and arrogant bastards. 

Notice again, this is not quite paranoia, though it can be paranoid in its more extreme expressions. It is paranoi-ish, or paranoid-adjacent, as Zoomers might say. But it is mostly just a cynicism out of control. It's that baseline level of paranoia again, just applied to social services. It isn't psychotic. However, it is not just logically weak.  These are not always logic issues or education issues or where-you-get-your-news issues. Some of it is a bit crazy and comes from within.

Longtime readers will have suspected that this has been a setup to this point, and that is fair, because I do that.  It is not my intent to trick you, to suck you in, to build a case and then pull the rug. But it is very much my intent to provide a context of "Oh yeah, I can see how that could be the case in general" before getting to a specific case about something you aren't going to like nearly as well.

This year it happened to conservatives about covid. These are my people, or were. Now, perhaps, I have no home. I keep reading about what they told us about vaccines, or distancing, or projections, or mandates, or school closings, or children, or Europe, or Sweden, and the they might be the CDC, or school boards, or the pharmaceutical industry, or Joe Biden, or any of 50 governors, or Andrew Cuomo, or academic researchers, or the Washington Post, but no, no no, it's all the same thing. They told us. It is often based on some real information, though scant.  Fauci did say mask/don't mask.  And then for eighteen months every skeptical article about covid has led with that in the first paragraph. We were misled about the possibility of it being a lab leak rather than a bat flu - which is important when considering what is going on in government in general and who is protecting whom, but has absolutely noting to do with vaccines, school closings, masks, mandates of any sort, distancing, Karens, or your personal suspicion that THEY-are-always-trying-to-take-our-freedoms. Nothing.  It's not making the right distinctions, it is responding with emotion rather than logic. Various industries have set masking and vaccination requirements. States have had intermittent rules about same.  The federal government proposed sweeping requirements, as they always do, and then...well, not much happened. Even over the things that they do control, like federal employees, it was only some o' this, some o' that.

Hospitals and clinics required people to mask and to get vaccinated, on the basis of very good hard information about contagion. Oh gee, what a horrible infringement on our liberties that was. Maternal outcomes were better, the flu season was low, we even had fewer colds. So the medical people, in their own space, having no authority over anyone else, had it exactly right and proved their point. If it wasn't worth it for the society as a whole about business closings, many of which were voluntary, that is no skin off their nose. When you break the theys down into individual components it all looks different.  How did your specific governor do, and what did s/he do right or wrong?  What did your specific industry, your church, the stores in your town do? There is no they. Don't Karen me about this. She doesn't matter.

Even here, and at the relatively reasonable sites I frequent we get people telling me that it's not a real vaccine, because it's not 100% effective and people still can get the disease. Like that's not true of all vaccines.** Because somehow it is they who are not to be trusted, and they are telling us what to do.  Key point: the friends who are quite careful in their own writing about what is logically supportable and what needs qualifiers still keep linking to crazy people who don't come close. What am I to think? 

Oh look! We found a fact! Let's use that to support every skeptical argument we can unearth.  Like no one has ever done that before.

It's not psychotic.  It's not paranoid.  It's just that cynicism run amok I was talking about.  I have positive acquaintances, people I liked to work with who are emphatically not psychotic who would ask "But don't you think it's odd how few Jews were killed in the Twin Towers?" Or "Reiki helps so many people but you can't get anyone to acknowledge that.  Don't you think the Medical Establishment is trying to downplay how effective it is?" Or the old standards about the Catholic Church not letting you read the Bible or Roosevelt knowing about Pearl Harbor in advance. But let someone go on Tucker Carlson and try to claim that these deaths are not covid, but  really just 25-44 y/o's getting the vaccine,  and no one at any of the entirely reasonable conservative sites I go to seems to be saying "Fuck this! I'm never watching him again and I'm telling my friends not to either.  These people are loons." They think it's good that alternative points of view be available. Well fine.  Let them be available.  Go over to

A humorous comparison. Years ago, there was a charming and attractive woman who went to my church who was skilled at winning over both women and men. She just told men to pick stuff up and move it here or move it there and they would just do it, wondering why later.  Women would quote the funny things she said at women's events. A beloved and truly talented person. Somewhere along the way I picked up that the smiliness was only part of it.  She intuitively invaded your space just a bit, still smiling. Men interpreted it as vaguely flirtatious.  Women felt it as a sisterly intimacy. She was back for that Swede Nelson memorial service I mentioned and frankly, she's still got it.  But I keep my distance now, smiling myself. She had two daughters, very attractive, the same age as my oldest son.  When he was in junior high youth group I noticed at an event once that he looked just a touch wide-eyed, just a touch overwhelmed and frozen. One of those daughters was talking to him, just that little bit too close like her mother, and the poor boy was at sea.  I wanted to shout "Swim clear! You'll be fine if you just get a bit of distance!"

I say that to my conservative friends now: "Swim clear! You'll be fine if you just get a bit of distance.!"

There is no "they." If you find yourself thinking that in any way, swim clear.

*Unless you had me as your social worker, that is, in which case I can read between the lines of what is not being said and drawing conclusions from that. (And I also remember your sister from highschool or had your uncle as a patient 25 years ago and know things I can't say out loud but can use to understand things. New Hampshire is a small state.) More humbly, a lot of us are skilled at noticing what dogs are not barking.

**Rant available. Do I have to pull this car over?


james said...

I guess when things start turning incomprehensible, everybody outside your "150" is "they," and presumed hostile.

Donna B. said...

**Rant available. Do I have to pull this car over?

The few times I did pull the car over, the silence from the back seat was deafening, and generally remained that way for the rest of the trip without my ever saying a word. Of course, this would not have worked if I'd done it more than a time or two. I don't think they ever realized that I pulled the car over to get myself under control. Perhaps they do now that they are parents... though my grandchildren are all very well-behaved at all times.*

*This is, of course, not quite true but my grandchildren respond positively to an occasional mild admonition from me because they believe that I believe that about them. They do not want to disappoint me.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"Do I Have To Pull This Car Over?" was my second choice for the name of this blog fifteen years ago.

Donna B. said...

More to the point of your post:

I am thoroughly disgusted with so many of my friends and relatives on Facebook. I think that refusing a vaccine because of politics is the height of stupidity. I also think that a government mandate is stupidly counter-productive.

"They" ... I think of it/them as Congress and the regulatory state it has created. But I don't think of "them" as a monolithic entity with a singular purpose. I think of "them" as a loosely connected group loosely using each other to gain some small inconsequential prize. None of them are sure what's at stake other than their own growth and number of prizes. They game each other, with no viable goal in mind and certainly no idea of the effect on any group or individual.

I am reminded of my own blaming of a "they" in regard to the 'private' 10-day cure mental/behavioral treatment hospitals that insurance companies in the late 90s/early 2000s pushed. In the 80s, it was 30 day treatments that were covered. The treatment provided was the same for alcoholism, other drug abuse, suicidal tendencies, traumatic brain injury side effects, depression... whatever psychiatric diagnosis. State hospitals, such as that you worked in, did not to me seems to be a part of this "they" but perhaps that varied by state.

It's a matter of individualism vs collectivism. Vaccines require a collective to be effective and that's anathema to some. It's difficult to explain to some that individual resistance to some aspects of collectivism is harmful to both.

David Foster said...

Donna B..."Vaccines require a collective to be effective"....that's not completely true. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, is about 90% effective at preventing Covid symptoms at a level requiring hospitalization. (Based on Israeli data with a large sample size) So if you are the only person in the world that gets this vaccine, it is still effective at protecting you from serious illness or death.

There is *also* a collective effect. The vaccines do have some effect in prevention of *getting* covid (as opposed to the very strong effect in preventing bad effects from it) and in reducing transmission; based on the data I've seen, these numbers are more on the 50% level and are less than was what was envisaged during the vaccine developments.

So it's a matter of conditional probabilities. If you have an interaction that otherwise would have given you a bad case of Covid, the vaccine (for you) by itself reduces the odds of getting it to 10%. If the person on the other side of the interaction also is vaccinated, then your probability of getting a bad case is reduced to 5%.

David Foster said...

One of the things that had led to 'they' thinking, at least where Covid is concerned, is the arrogant and incompetent manner in which public health communication has been conducted. Various edicts are announced under cover of 'the science says', rather than with appeal to specific data with specific sources. Which creates the sense of an amorphous entity acting as an oracle, rather than as particular groups and people.

Donna B. said...

@David Foster -- I should have said "most effective". However, years before Covid, I became disgusted with people who said things like "if you're vaccinated, why are you worried because I'm not?" I certainly don't understand all aspects of the human immune system and suspect that no one does beyond generalities -- there will always be individual differences. I really do prefer 5% over 10% chance of getting 'severe' Covid.

You are absolutely correct about the arrogance and incompetence in public health communication.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ David Foster - I would like to grant that escape to the skeptics, but I don't think I can. Which is the chicken and which the egg? People have been saying "F-you" to this since the beginning. Not everyone, certainly, but significant percentages of my people have been saying "You're's just the's not going to hit America like other places...they just want to control us..." Right out of the gate. I now conclude that a lot of conservatives just wanted something to get pissed about and this came up next. (The violent leftist protests of the summer are a parallel development.) I think government officials have significant responsibility to put things as clearly and nicely as they can anyway. However, I see the arrogance having grown over time, and that not occurring in a vacuum. In particular, I don't see conservatives saying at any point "Okay, I got this wrong and jumped the gun in my judgement and I shouldn't have done that" before going on to articulating their complaint. You know how I am about those "This 100% the other guys's fault" attitudes. It's never true.

Good information is available, and with a little work has been available right along. It doesn't seem to have mattered.

David Foster said...

I've certainly seen a lot of bizarre 'logic' from conservatives on Covid..for one thing, lots of people have no idea how to think about probabilities...I've seen Covid risks dismissed as "less that 1%" from people who would be absolutely horrified at the idea of taking a job where they had 1 chance in 100 of getting killed in a year. I've seen someone who is a devout Christian say he would rather trust to Jesus than to vaccines; somehow I don't think he takes that attitude when it comes to stepping on his car's brake if he's about the hit something. I've seen someone at a conservative site (Ricochet) say that the number of people killed by the vaccines exceeds the number saved, and when I asked him for a link supporting this theory, he accused me of having blood on my hands.

While I think there are some conservatives who "just wanted something to get pissed about and this came up next", I don't think that's the major factor. A lot of people are have been feeling pushed around for a long time, and reacted very negatively to the Respeckt-mah-Authoriteh tone of so many edicts...some of which were indeed just plain crazy, like some of those in Michigan.

It's also worthy of note that anti-vaccine activism long predates Covid, and has (previously) largely been driven by various left-wing celebrities and by people who think everything 'natural', and only things 'natural', are good. Was it inevitable that this phenomenon jumped so strongly over to conservatives?...especially given that the vaccines were a Trump-driven project in the first place?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My disagreement with that is slight. There was plenty of preference for "natural" solutions on the right, though. I noted in the first years of this blog that there is a subset of Christians, often tied closely to chiropractic, that clearly takes this emphasis on the natural as an article of faith. They would deny they go that far, but it is their default position so often that I think they just aren't looking at themselves clearly. They sometimes espouse a libertarianism that Hayek or Friedman or Bastiat or Rothbard or Von Mises would not recognise. It's more a feeling and impression. See also "essential oils."

It's a fascinating thing, tied more closely to German paganism than Christianity, as I detailed almost a decade ago. The number of "Bible diets" and fundamentalist groups that esspouse this suggests that people feel like there is some powerful connection. Perhaps it is nothing more that "granma's ways were the best ways."

David Foster said...

AVI, a book you and others here might enjoy (or at least find interesting) is 'Strange Rites', by Tara Isabella Burton. It is about various forms of religion that have emerged in America over recent decades, with 'religion' being defined very broadly, maybe too broadly. Very long, but worthwhile.

David Foster said...

In Hans Fallada's 1932 novel 'Little Man, What Now?', the protagonists are a struggling and likeable young couple in late-Weimar Germany, known to one another as Sonny and Lammchen. Their political views are not very sophisticated....when they grow frustrated with delayed reimbursements from Germany's vaunted public health insurance system, they resolve to vote Communist in the next election. Fallada describes their ideas:

Lammchen: "She had a few simple ideas: that most people are only bad because they have been made bad, that you shouldn’t judge anybody because you never know what you would do yourself, that the rich and powerful think ordinary people don’t have the same feelings as they do–that’s what Lammchen instinctively believed, though she hadn’t thought it out."

Sonny: "Ministers made speeches to him, enjoined him to tighten his belt, to make sacrifices, to feel German, to put his money in the savings-bank and to vote for the constitutional party. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t, according to the circumstances, but he didn’t believe what they said. Not in the least. His innermost conviction was: they all want something from me, but not for me."

These descriptions could apply to a lot of people in America today, I think.

Reviewed here:

Grim said...

There is no "they." If you find yourself thinking that in any way, swim clear.

There's no such thing as society, either; not really. There are just individuals, who interact in various ways. "Society" is just an abstraction. So, when I hear people talking about "socially constructed" entities -- race, for example -- I realize that these people are talking about abstractions created by abstractions, things that cannot be real because the thing that supposedly created them isn't real either.

Yet there is a way in which it makes sense to talk about "society," which is why we keep doing it. They don't exist metaphysically, not like a man with a soul; but there's a reason we keep trying to refer to the thing that doesn't exist.

Ribro90 said...

People are tribal, it's too hard to reason your way through life. Easy to get along by going along, safety and comfort in having the same viewpoints as your friends and family.
I'm in New Zealand, a long way from the USA but there are lots of people who hate Trump, they really have no specific reason, it's just what they're told and what they see on TV, social media and the media.
For me it seems that U.S. conservatives were dumped on for so long that it's a natural reaction to resist what the Biden government is saying, it's a way of resisting, of pushing back and even if that endangers you or your friends and family it seems right.
We were lucky in NZ that we could close our borders and keep Covid out but our left-wing government squandered the 18 months grace and are now scrambling to save their bacon.
'There is no they' crap, there always is, it's just how we process things, stereotypes are the way we make sense of the world.

Christopher B said...

Picking up on Grim's comment, there are organizations of individuals who agree to interact in specific ways by formal and informal agreement, and then present that organization as an entity to interact with other individuals for specific purposes, again by both formal and informal agreement. The difficulty that presents itself immediately is that people aren't part of a hive-mind so every interaction, both within and without the organization, is between people who are presenting and reacting to an abstraction that none of them perfectly understand. The difficulty increases with the degree to which the agreements inside and outside the organization are not transparent, whether that is from simple misunderstanding, improper expectation, or active concealment. As a result, those interactions may at times, and even often, be at cross-purposes. Add state or state-sanctioned monopoly power to the mix, and you have a real toxic stew.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Strange Rites has been on my wish list for a couple of years. I should probably elevate it. Reading off a page is harder for me every year but I still do some.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I like where people took this, BTW

james said...

Grim, I wonder if "There's no such thing as society" is entirely true. We have it on good authority that a particular society of two (husband and wife) can be a single thing, and that another group can be thought of as a bride. Perhaps this extends to other varieties of society as well--varieties that arise organically and not by bureaucratic fiat.

Grim said...

We have that one thing on good authority; and "honor your father and mother." There are verses that suggest that a child who cannot be managed might be brought to the elders at the gates of the city and put to death; but not quite that the entity that puts to death is metaphysically real.

This is a most interesting question. What constitutes an entity is a very basic matter, and thus much harder and much more informative than other discussions.

Texan99 said...

"People have been saying "F-you" to this since the beginning. Not everyone, certainly, but significant percentages of my people have been saying "You're's just the's not going to hit America like other places...they just want to control us..." Right out of the gate."

Isn't that pretty much an example of "they" thinking? "People" and "significant percentages of my people" is a very "they" sort of approach. Individual people who are unreasonable deserve to be treated as unreasonable, but how reasonable is it to tar an entire population of skeptics on one or more aspects of the pandemic with the same brush, for fear of either (1) offending particular members who may be in your present company or (2) troubling to distinguish among them? Some people who analyze COVID issues no doubt go astray in one more particulars. Each argument should be approached on its merits, not its tribal origin.

Individual experts, or specific institutional experts who speak with one institutional voice, deserve to be evaluated on the basis of their reliability. I haven't decided to ignore all opinions about COVID prevention or treatment, but I've sure quit listening to specific bozos with a poor track record for accuracy or basic truthfulness, and I'll never stop the hard work of deciding which mandatory public policies need to be resisted despite the wild-eyed claims made for their efficacy and necessity.

Same goes for the medical fads that spring up every year. Some hold water, some don't, no matter how many impressive titles are involved.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I would feel more caught out that I was doing the same thing if I had started at that point 18 months ago and had refused to listen to the legitimate complaints people had. But in fact I had some sympathy with them at the outset, and considerable sympathy with the general idea of skepticism. So they were suspicious of those government agencies and pharmaceutical companies. Well and good. In response, they, and I use the term with force now, believe everyone else who doubts instead. It is not that they are suspicious, but that they are not suspicious enough. they want to believe some authority, and so believe nutcases. I don't think they had to go there.

What skeptical arguments do you think actually hold water now? I see the point of people being able to make their own choices, even if they are dead wrong, and am willing to go with that a long way. I can also gulp and see the point (which no one is making, but could) that the shutdowns were so devastating that we should have allowed more people to die. But trying to find the part where "We're not dead wrong! The lockdowns caused more deaths than they saved! The vaccines are more dangerous than the disease! This could have an effect on reproduction (which was always an insane, clearly primitive fear that I tried to be polite and gentle about)! The government is covering up heart deaths! This is child abuse! This is oppression! More people wouldn't have died, they just want to control us!" What's left that is actually a reasonable argument by reasonable people?

And so I paint them with a broad brush because they have chosen that brush themselves.

Texan99 said...

Yikes. You're in touch with people who "believe everyone else who doubts," and seemingly about everything? You think some of them post here? All these people are dead wrong about literally everything now, in your view?

I'm pretty convinced the vaccine is safer than not, for people of my own age and condition. I'm utterly convinced the virus kills an alarming number of people. Beyond that, I would have a hard time calling most of the positions I've seen on vaccination, treatment, and social mitigation policies--pro or con--anything close to "dead wrong." Some are harder to defend than others, but that hard-to-defend category exists on both side of the debate.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The skeptics' positions on vaccination, treatment, and social mitigation are pretty much dead wrong, not just harder to defend. They raised legitimate questions, but those have been answered, and counter-questions have been proposed. I have not seen acknowledgement that they have been answered, nor attempts to answer the counter-questions. I have only seen repetition of the original complaints, and quoting only the studies they like. There are a couple of reasonable people at Chicago Boyz, but most are making no sense. You aren't seeing the same people I am at Maggie's, at Insty, at Ace - and not just the commenters, but the posters? Alex Berenson is on Fox and treated as a reasonable person.

But even more alarming are just the people I run into at the market, old friends who are quick to tell me that the tests can't differentiate covid from a cold or flu - as if we have lost 800,000 to colds? Or that a local teenager who died the day after getting the vaccine was clearly from that and the autopsy showed it, but it's being covered up, or that the deaths are no longer from covid but from the vaccine. These are now common beliefs, from people who I used to know as reasonable. I am alarmed.

Kansas Scout said...

I share the underlying concerns. The "right" (whoever they are?) have responded to the politicization of the Covid by replying in kind. The root here is the collapse of trust in our society and a grasping for "truth" off the internet. I will only quibble at the prejudice revealed towards Carlson who I've never seen cast doubt on the Vaccines. This looks the same as when "Progressives" do the same. You also decry exactly what your doing in the article. Seems pretty myopic. Otherwise, I share the disgust at "Conservatives" anti vaccine madness.