Nicholas's Writings

Writings I made for myself. Enjoy them where applicable.

I'm writing this because I got a new response today while telling a denier about the dangers of COVID-19. I'd like to set this document as a reminder for myself that here marks the end of grace for me towards willful ignorance of the harms caused by this deadly super-virus (and all of its similarly transmitted ilk).

A bit of background on me

It's worth setting some context around the conversation. I am a strictly-zero type of person when it comes to COVID-19. I don't engage in any “risk analysis”, or “you do you”-isms, or cheat-days, or any of the like. I play by the simple playbook of “zero contact” because it's easier for my brain and heart to manage. I do allow several layers of protection to permit minimal contact scenarios, but I'm strict enough in how little I do that it is likely clearer to tell you of the few sorts of activities I do take part in.

As an example, there was one time, a couple years and too many variants ago, when I took a walk on a trail where others occasionally passed me by, many of whom were conscientiously masked (as the government had advised them to do back then). This was a special occasion. Every effort was made to ensure that all the right boxes were checked at all times. The winning trifecta of good safety: masked, distanced, outdoors.

Those times are over for me, for now.

In the recent months of 2023, I can no longer even visit the doctor, optometrist, or dentist without intentional, explicit, and potentially mutually arduous arrangements; at times weeks to months in advance. While I deeply prefer anonymity, I must pause to write “thank you” to these professionals in my life who have made every attempt to ensure that I can go on living without fatal infection while still receiving proper healthcare. I do not know how long their ability to work with me will last (or heaven forbid, their willingness) and can only count my blessings.

I trust that these small anecdotes have already given you an incredibly precise idea of what kind of life I am forced to lead. I am aware I have the privilege to do this and I judge no one for being forced to adapt to different levels of safety, but we must turn to the crux of the matter: there is indeed a judgment. As suggested by the title, now is the time that I am done with permitting constant leeway to those who continually choose to live unawares of the human cost in lives and the health of others that they are racking up.

Let's turn to today's conversation and its other participant.

My friend, and our conversation

My friend lives closely alongside anti-vaxxers and vocal bigots. He has always been a bit stuck wading through these type of muddy waters that I count myself lucky to be generally free from. While he has always proven to be floating happily above the sorts of vices that he's mired in, today's conversation suggests that there may have been a leak somewhere along the way.

To the point, we we were chatting lightly about how we each were, and catching up about the latest frivolities. I turned the conversation to trust my long-time friend with the fact that it's tough to be feeling like my health is finally on a brief climb and to not have much that I can do with it. Since society has all but cast me out to die as an untouchable, by proxy of COVID now being a naughty word and myself acting as a token of its lingering power, I am all healthed up with nowhere to go.

The response wasn't quite the empathetic echo I needed to hear, that which I could generally count on. Instead it was a soft rejection of reality. I received gentle suggestions that he only hears of stormy weather when I'm on the line, and that the world is sunny and beautiful according to everyone else. That things are back to normal, and he wishes they could be for me, as well.

I faced this friend with the lay and boring facts that all of those who deny COVID are engaged in cold-blooded killings. I'll defend those terms briefly: cold-blooded simply because they aren't within the heat of passion and killings simply because their actions directly cause the deaths of people down the infection chain. (An exception granted if they are unlucky enough to have committed a cold-blooded and accidental suicide by infecting themselves and seeing no one else — not the win we should be hoping for).

The push-back became clearer as I received the novel response mentioned in the introduction: “I wish you didn't feel that way. It's hard knowing you think that of me, my partner, and my family”.

Thoughts and prayers are passé; try wishes

I'll admit: the response sounds measured and polite. In some ways it is, but it is in those same ways exemplifying the banality of evil. The response immediately undercuts the empirical data that I was reporting which unquestionably shows that COVID is a stone-cold and utterly merciless killer, as ruthless as it is on-going: beyond plenty. COVID's body count numbers in the millions and is still not stopping, despite (as that site will alert you if you click) any of the reporting cessations from the villains or cowards in leadership. It's still not stopping, despite the fact that we have already killed the most vulnerable; it still claims more. It grows and mutates to persevere, unfortunately unlike the humans it breeds within.

In brief: no, these are not “my feelings”. These are facts.

Engaging in wanton denialism of COVID equates directly to human suffering and death. We all need to navigate this landscape together, despite the virus' ability to spread between us, but denialism is biological assault and outright murder.

The end of the excuse

Henceforth, I'm taking a step further in my heart today with my personal social circle: ignorance is now a choice.

Enough time has passed for any checked out, mental laze about to defend themselves by claiming to be a fool about the most pressing global matters of our generations [1]. It's been long enough and now far too long to claim it any further as an excuse, at least to me.

I will no longer lend gratuitous grace to the tired and increasingly sickening attempt to play dumb. Resources on the dangers of COVID are so plentiful now that you could drown in them. I don't believe anyone needs a silver bullet omnibus of all the data, either; just read the data until you realize there's no acceptable level of careless infection!

For myself, it's time to be done tolerating the denialist, the complacent, these who are complicit in the murder of predominantly oppressed or vulnerable groups. Groups I love and cherish. Groups I am at times numbered in. Groups who, like their oppressors and feigned-invulnerable alternatives, are beautiful and precious human souls with unalienable and undeniable worth and value.

The deniers are human just like these. And so they know what it means to learn and to live and to laugh, what it means to hurt and suffer, and furthermore the unjustifiable evil of hurting others, whether by deliberate actions or tacit permission. I'm done with this prevailing, suffocating, unreasonable priority clanging out in every corner of my life to “only talk about good feelings, only care about comfort” in the middle of an unyielding pandemic. I cannot and we must not be happy to watch others suffer and die.

These are human beings who are enlarging this viral slaughter by denialism and lazy ignorance. So I will engage their humanity with great resources to learn more about how COVID kills and disables humans just like themselves. I will plea to their conscience to learn how to protect themselves and others. I will urge them clearly, and without timidity, that their choice to recklessly hurt others is fully under their own total control.

We must not permit callous atrocities. We cannot change the size of the universe, but we can absolutely change its kind, and its kindness, in every small movement, in every daily act. I believe this is how I can take part. I welcome any to join in these simple and kind acts to those who understand and feel this pain.

And so, that ignorance is over; that excuse has met its end.

Footnote

[1]: Climate change is obviously in combat with COVID for #1 most pressing problem, but I am not a great source for writing on this matter, so my writings will remain moreso about the latter. ← Back

~ N.0

Copyright 2023 N.0, All Rights Reserved.

The above works may not be reproduced for publication in part or in whole in any form except on write.zeroes.ca, its origination. If you are reaching it from elsewhere, it is likely stolen. Monetarily, this work was published free of charge; you should not have paid to access it. Personal copies may be created by any app or utility to improve accessibility for personal use, as long as it does not directly publish the work nor provide indirect means for broader publication to others than yourself. No part of this work may be ever used for AI model training, nor appear in any large language models (LLMs), generative pre-trained transformers (GPTs), nor for use with any novel machine learning technologies.

I was struck today by the realization that this is actually an interesting question to receive. It's a reality check. It's an ego check. What's most important about those checks is that they may be right. It's not simply the case that you can barrel forth through it or navigate around it, whether tactfully or waddling haphazardly.

The context

Let's back up and set the context, in case it's not clear. To set the stage, let's say that you're having a chat with someone about something important, where you know something you need to convey, and they may have no clue you need them to hear it.

It grows more and more difficult these days to deliver the leading scientific evidence that COVID-19 is extremely harmful to continually choose to keep around in our communities and global population through collective ignorance and inaction, as well as being very hazardous to contract for an individual, regardless of your health background. Furthermore, it's becoming obvious that we can easily choose to dramatically reduce its presence [1] , if not eliminate it entirely. One critical fact that most people tend to be missing is that COVID-19 is transmitted by breathing. Let's choose this fact as the one that your chat partner is missing.

Given this important, life-saving information, there's a natural urge to want to share it with those you care about. It leads to conversations where you have someone close to you who is (at times, blissfully) ignorant of the changes that need to be made in their environment and, likely, their behavior. Even if for the well-being of themselves and others, it's tough to be the bearer of bad news. When the time comes to deliver the information from one knowledgeable conversant to the other, there's sometimes an immediate push-back – whether gentle, firm, or forceful – in the form of a simple sticky question: “why am I hearing this from you?”, as titled.

Given that the title question is in its naked form, you may not recognize when you've received it in the past already. It can be as subtle as oddly-timed silence. At times the question is a gentle push-back, such as a nonsequitous assertions “we are following the latest governmental regulations” or “we are following OSHA guidelines” [2] . It can take the form of a non-committal “okay” or “cool” when you deliver such news that should instill any emotion, and subsequently some form of action, but seems to generate none. Other times, the question is somewhat-less disguised in the form of a negative question, leading to an implication on the behalf of an absent party; for example, “why hasn't the government issued any changes?”. Among many other forms, the question can also finally come outright, exposing no concern for hiding the doubt, as titled and mentioned above. The titled version may sound most aggressive at initial thought, but where every person and relationship is different, it may also simply be the most open form: a sharing of doubt to be tackled as a team, instead of keeping it hidden.

Regardless of format, each is the same problem: you are not the expected person to be delivering such news.

The problem

Tackling the problem seems simple, and doesn't seem to deserve any article of guidance such as this one being penned (and presumably, read). At first blush, the titled question may seem as valid a question as any, and should be tackled earnestly, but I otherwise contend in this article and this section that it's not actually a valid question, it is an interesting situation that is driven by a pair of logical fallacies. I'm a lightweight at fallacies, so I won't make heavy use of them, but they're something that we all should grow in familiarity with, so I'm going to employ a couple.

In effort of full disclosure, there may be some unpleasantness to acknowledging these fallacies in-use upon you, and further unpleasantness with your conversant to pick them apart. The first fallacy will begin to show why, and the second will make it more clear. It's left as an exercise to the reader and user of this knowledge to be sure you aren't simply wrong, of course, but assuming not, let's cover these fallacies at play.

“The experts don't agree with you...”

The first fallacy is an appeal to authority: in brief, you're not a person they trust to tell them such critical information. They have heard conflicting statements from experts (such as the government or their employer) and those experts must be correct.

At such time that you hear this, it's worth checking if you're outside your circle of trust, or if you have mutual trust established. I've recently heard valid complaints that COVID-cautious folks (and those more stringent) are overly busy working outside of their circle of trust. This point may be well argued, and so you should check if you've forgotten yourself and your circle of trust or influence. Ask yourself if your chat partner has openly shared signals or messages of trust with you.

If you are in the right circle of trust, and your conversant apparently or expressly trusts you, then this fallacy tips the hand of the second, sneakier fallacy that was played. It's not simply that there is the one fallacy outlined here. I say this because it would look different to simply commit the first fallacy above. To simply commit the first fallacy is to say “oh, you must be mistaken. Here, look, the government has issued a notice that everything is fine – and always was”. That's what it looks like to argue by authority: there should be a tangible effort to issue the poorly reasoned “correction” to the other side.

This is, at least, not what I run into. I regularly see no attempt to educate me differently, because the appeal to authority is a convenient means of confessing a preclusion to COVID-19 being dangerous in any way, or requiring individual change (or larger). Since that's not what tends to happen, let's add the second fallacy to get the full picture.

“So you can't be right”

As background to the second fallacy, I've had this conversation a few times, and always received it flat-footed. I've developed this article to remind myself how to argue, as well as perhaps luck into helping someone else.

To the point, when I find myself in this conversation, it always feels like a one-two punch to receive this doubt. It's not simply the effort to educate me by the hands of the expert. It's (1) that I'm not the right person to be giving this information and (2) therefore I'm wrong about the information, further. Point number one is fully covered by the above fallacy, but the second assertion is an extra logical step taken which requires some second descriptor. I'm not the government, so they conclude that, no, there's no need to wear a respirator or change any attitudes or behaviors towards the deadly pandemic killing millions across the globe. Let's take it as a given, then, that there's a second tool at play.

The particular nature of the second fallacy is arguable to me looks to me like an argument from fallacy, but I'm no encyclopedia on fallacies. In any case, the first fallacy has them effectively saying you're the wrong person to tell them: that you're no expert, and since you're no expert, you cannot be trusted for this information. In the second fallacy they say, “I've already assessed that what you say is false because it's not from the right source,” which is a fallacy itself, as described above, “and therefore since your reasoning is flawed, your conclusions are also flawed: COVID-19 cannot therefore be as concerning as you argue”.

Hopefully the second fallacy can be seen as distinct, by now. The second fallacy brings with it the aforementioned unpleasantness that you may not have noticed yet: it exposes quite plainly that your conversational partner either lacks the tools or the preference for determining truth by gathering direct evidence. That is, they hear the truth from other people, and are inclined to (or forced to) trust it, even when we know that such methods of gathering the truth have a notably poor signal-to-noise ratio. In lay terms: people make many mistakes and they lie for myriad reasons.

We won't be able to cover here the impossible text of “how to gain truth”, but it should be easy to agree that you don't simply trust others for everything: you should be doing legwork to verify the truth of things through direct evidence, and also seeking high-quality counter-evidence to your assumed beliefs in order to challenge them.

Returning to the point that your conversant does not know how to look for truth themselves, that they validate and accept information by its source or by its convenience, or other factors than truth's reality, we have outlined the problem entirely. A summary follows.

”...How could you convince me otherwise?”

Our problem is that you're hearing “you aren't the right person to tell me this, so therefore it's actually false information”. We know that's not true, so the problem and challenge is: what now?

This is the (at least) 7 million confirmed deaths and counting question to answer. It would be very valuable to solve such poor argumentation in general, and then to begin winning the frequently-lost battles in the wild.

An exploration of solutions

Any reasonable solution to this problem has to be greeted with empathy and compassion, brokered through trust.

What if you are the wrong person?

If you're the wrong person to be telling someone news like this, the right answer and solution is to realize your mistake and back down. Your perceived circle of influence expanded beyond its real impact, and you should admit your mistake and learn to focus your efforts on those you truly share a bond with.

It's easy for us to begin pinging people publicly on social media (or directly messaging them) as if they have invited us to do so, but it is worth quickly checking twice if the kind of contact we are providing them was ever requested. Without an established relationship, such unwanted contact is at minimum abrasive, if not rude, if not outright vexatious (whether intentionally or not). In short, if you are reaching out to your friends over social media, it's worth asking where your bond of friendship was forged and how strong it is.

The above is the easy case, but now for the hard cases.

What if you “aren't”?

There's many times when the titlted question is issued by a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, an uncle, a cousin, a friend of some degree. By all names: a trusted confidant in some capacity, who trusts you.

Dismantling someone's argument by pointing out its fallacies is almost guaranteed to fail (and you would know your audience where it would work), so we need a better plan of action.

I offer this section as an inquiry, instead of as a guide. I believe that acknowledging the argument as given as fallacious, twice-over, is sound footing to begin working against it. I will put a few solutions that work for my circle of trust, but the right answer is to ask what would work in your circle of trust.

For my circle of trust, the options are simplistic, but likely more successful than my previous strategies:

  1. Ask them if they believe their employer or government representatives have followed all of the latest science on COVID-19, or if they may have gotten exhausted from following themselves and have lost track of the urgency as information comes in from their best sources. It's not likely to be effective to point out that arguments should not be made from authority, but it is worth pointing out that their experts may not actually be experts. This can invite, at minimum, a search for new experts, such as science communicators.

  2. Ask them if they have taken the time to check the sources for themselves. Make mention that the sources I have are readily available for citation, and the studies are clear. Remind them of a time where we did things wrong, such as with wide-spread cigarette smoking, ignorant of the risks of lung cancer, and ask if there could be any similarity.

  3. Encourage them that they are actually part of the few pioneers instead of the many folks trailing the truth. This is, for better or worse, simply a fact. If anyone is hearing from a total minority like myself, someone who believes that COVID-19 is one of our highest priority global concerns [3] , then they are the first-degree away in the network of knowledge from the highly important and life-saving truths of the proven harms and hazards of COVID-19.

Beyond the simple strategy above, I'm certainly open to workshop ideas to approach this flawed argumentation. You can reach me by my signature-link.

Foot-notes

[1]: Yes, we can easily, though not freely, choose to reduce or eliminate COVID-19 and other pathogens that spread like it. It will take the cost and action of changing our buildings to filter and exchange air more readily and to specific standards. It will take an acceptance of respirators in common-use in the West, much as they have been in the use in the East. It will take a change to raise awareness in everyday lay people to know how to avoid viruses which spread through breathing, for them to prefer outdoor and ventilated environments. The most difficult change will likely be the attitude changes required for those who meaningfully influence any of these things, whether by convincing them or replacing them. ← Back

[2]: There could be a whole separate article written about how these are, by design, never the leading groups of knowledge, but always the trailing ones which collect long-standing agreements. ← Back

[3]: Alongside the exceedingly evident and disastrous effects of climate change, which will actually be tackled in tandem with COVID-19 mitigations: remote work is good for climate change ← Back


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~ N.0

Copyright 2023 N.0, All Rights Reserved.

The above works may not be reproduced for publication in part or in whole in any form except on write.zeroes.ca, its origination. If you are reaching it from elsewhere, it is likely stolen. Monetarily, this work was published free of charge; you should not have paid to access it. Personal copies may be created by any app or utility to improve accessibility for personal use, as long as it does not directly publish the work nor provide indirect means for broader publication to others than yourself. No part of this work may be ever used for AI model training, nor appear in any large language models (LLMs), generative pre-trained transformers (GPTs), nor for use with any novel machine learning technologies.

No, wait: Hello, world!

This post will be my sandbox test page for writefreely

Expect many meaningless updates :–)

Thanks!

~ N.0

Copyright 2023 N.0, All Rights Reserved.

The above works may not be reproduced for publication in part or in whole in any form except on write.zeroes.ca, its origination. If you are reaching it from elsewhere, it is likely stolen. Monetarily, this work was published free of charge; you should not have paid to access it. Personal copies may be created by any app or utility to improve accessibility for personal use, as long as it does not directly publish the work nor provide indirect means for broader publication to others than yourself. No part of this work may be ever used for AI model training, nor appear in any large language models (LLMs), generative pre-trained transformers (GPTs), nor for use with any novel machine learning technologies.