Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Tourist In An Alternative Reality. Visiting The Extreme Right.

So I spent some of my precious hours studying to understand those who are drawn to the extremist thinking of Stephen Bannon, the man who is promising us the reign of the working man.  And the most important truth I brought home with me is this:  Those folks really do live in an alternative theory, with a very different alternative set of "facts."

For instance, did you know that George Soros is behind everything having to do with the progressive causes?  Hillary Clinton was his puppet, he funded and perhaps hired professional agitators for the Black Lives Matter protests.  Indeed, because he has given money to all sorts of liberal causes, from La Raza to NOW, all those organizations now do his bidding.

Many YouTube videos provide "evidence" on all this, including "evidence" on what George Soros has said publicly, though the problem is that those statements come without the questions he answered or the context in which he answered them.

Some of the videos also show brown people committing violent acts or wrecking lamp posts and so on, but there is no information who the people in the clips are, where the videos were taken or when.  We are simply told that the violence is by, say, Middle Eastern or African refugees in Europe, and that Soros is somehow behind the refugee crisis.

Then there was one YouTube video with a blurb like this:

Many are reporting that Trump protests appear to be professionally
organized. Paid participants are found using Craigslist ads and they are showing up on chartered buses. Someone is paying for all the signs, buses, and actors. All indications point to Soros. In this segment, Vin  Armani explains why Soros frequently funds upheaval.

If you have read Foucault's Pendulum you may get an idea of how unrelated things are linked to each other, how a chain of arguments is created, and how it then becomes an established fact, due to circular quoting and linking.

Within the Bannon World all that is simply a known truth:  That George Soros is behind everything bad that has ever happened.  And pays for all liberal stuff, except for this blog.  Ahem.

To give you an example of the problems I faced in that foreign land, imagine that two kids have a big fight, caused by one pinching the other one's toy and then getting kicked in the shin by the owner of the said toy.  More fighting follows.  Imagine that an adult captures the whole thing, from the beginning to the end on video.

That video would be the truth about the events.  Now suppose that each child gets Bannon's PR help to create their own videos of the events, to decide which bits to leave out, to decide which bits to stress (such as increasing the sound of screaming or repeating a swear word uttered by one child many times), to decide what type of ominous music to add and so on.

We would get two very different videos, assuming neither child is particularly noble.  The one who stole the toy would not show the theft, for example, and both children would pick the parts of the fight where the other child seemed to be attacking a poor defenseless victim.

Editing of this type is very common in those right-wing YouTube videos, but I think even worse stuff lies behind some of those odd monsters which are put together from unrelated clips.  To analyze them properly  would require someone to spend months on the original sources of the clips.  Sigh.

Most of the YouTube videos are intended for the consumption of low-information (and angry) audiences.  But even better informed Alt Right or extreme right members repeatedly quote certain factoids which  all derive from the same small number of extremist websites. And because they are so often quoted, they become accepted "truths."

Not all on the political left are free of this same disease, by the way.  That's why it's crucial for all of us to consume more than one set of news.  But it's even more important to make certain that there are objective news organizations which focus on the gathering of as factual information as possible.  I see the New York Times and the Washington Post as fairly earnest in that endeavor.  Sadly, the Alt Right rejects them completely, perhaps because they clash with what they learn in their alternative reality.

I wish to end this post with an examination of a comment I copied from the comments thread attached to an Alt Right story in a Canadian newspaper.  Here it is:

Never mind the fact that most everything in that comment is deranged.  Just make a note that men will no longer be 2nd class citizens!

Now that IS funny.  But it is also pretty troubling, given the fact that the real 2nd class citizens in this reality are not white men*.  Yet many in that alternative reality explicitly believe in the argument that men are the most oppressed group on this planet.  Facts make no difference, none whatsoever.  That all American presidents have been men matters not a whit, for example, because that alternative reality has a different set of "facts."

Consider the example in the comment which compares testicular and ovarian cancer: "Now testicular cancer will matter just as much as ovarian.  The funding will be equal." 

The alternative reality is an extremely hostile place, so I haven't visited it enough to know what all that is about.  I guess the writer believes that ovarian cancer gets more money (for care? for research?) than testicular cancer, and only because men are 2nd class citizens?

But consider this:  I looked up some basic facts about the two kinds of cancers, and found that a) ovarian cancer is twice as common as testicular cancer, with the rates of incidence being 11.9 per 100 000 people per year for ovarian cancer and 5.7 per 100 000 people per year for testicular cancer.  The mortality rates differ, too.

Testicular cancer has one of the highest survival rates of all cancers.  If it's caught in Stage I where no cancer cells are found outside the testicles, the five-year-survival rate is 99%.  If the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate drops to 96%.  If the cancer has spread beyond those lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate drops further, to 75%

Ovarian cancer has a five-year survival rate of 92% if no cancer cells are found outside the ovaries, but only 15% of all cases present that early.  The overall five-year-survival rate for all ovarian cancers is 46%.

Thus, the latter type of cancer kills more people than the former type, though testicular cancer also affects much younger people (those between 20 and 34) than ovarian cancer (where the age at onset is between 55 and 64).

So what is a fair allocation of the funds?  Should the patients with ovarian cancer get twice as much as the patients with testicular cancer, given that they are roughly twice as many?  But that would require that the costs and efficacy of  treating both types of cancer are the same.  Perhaps that isn't the case?  Perhaps one type of cancer is much more expensive to treat?

And how do we weigh the fact that patients with ovarian cancer are more likely to die than patients with testicular cancer, albeit at older average ages?  Perhaps that affects where research funding goes, if we wish to maximize the number of lives saved?

The reason I have discussed that assertion is to show how much work addressing some of those Alt Right memes entails.  Nobody is going to do it on all the hundreds of similar assertions that float around in that alternative reality, sigh.


*  This does NOT mean that all white men are top roosters on the dungheap or that life wouldn't ever deal them a bad hand.  What it DOES mean is this:  Suppose we could create identical twins the same in everything except, say, whether others view that individual as male or female.  Thus, these imaginary twins would be the same but for their assumed biological sex.  Now, which of those two twins would find fewer obstacles in life?

You can run through the same example by changing only the perceived race of one twin and then think about which of the two is going to be more fortunate.