The rules of engagement

We’ve all seen it before, many times. A news event occurs. A popular discussion ensues. One particular thread begins trending, claiming that the news media and certain political operatives are “misreporting” everything. What we see on television is in fact a “false flag event” intended to deceive the “sheeple” who have fallen for it, it is maintained. Only the people who see through all this are smart enough to get at the actual truth, they condescendingly insist. September 11th, therefore, was really an inside job, they aver. MMR vaccinations are causing autism, they persist. Coronavirus was created in the lab and disseminated by 5G technology and Bill Gates, they pontificate.

What’s particularly fascinating is these claims are so often asserted as if the claimant himself or herself only just thought of it themselves. “The first time I heard about this,” they say, “I noticed something funny about the whole thing. It just didn’t add up.” Then the predictable list of claims-without-evidence follows. Much of it cut and paste from other sources.

This kind of thing keeps happening because we let it happen. It is popularly tolerated because most people aren’t educated in the acceptable rules of engagement. “My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge” wouldn’t be tolerated for a minute in a culture where truth isn’t up for grabs. The internet is a culture where anything goes, and we have a Trump presidency and more than a hundred thousand human deaths to remind us just how deadly that culture can be.

The culture I’m referring to is philosophical naïveté, the idea that because a thing is plausible it must be true. It ought to give you pause when plausibility is the only thing a theory you support has going for it. But more sooner than later it’s adopted not only as the logical explanation, but the only one. Any dissenting voice is shouted down.

Part of the pressure comes from the human predilection to take sides and take sides now. Too many of us are in a hurry to make up our minds. It’s a short step from offering a list of possibilities to deciding on the spot and without evidence that one member on the list of possibilities is the truth. Sometimes we just have to wait until all the evidence is in. Or at least until enough of the evidence is in for us to make a rational guess.

But I get ahead of myself. What needs to be understood first and foremost is that the burden of proof for all claims rests with the claimant — every time. If you are going to authoritatively insist that 5G is being used to manipulate our minds then make with the science and make with it now. And no, I’m not talking about science you just read on Wikipedia and barely understood, I’m talking about the specific detailed mechanism that makes mental manipulation possible. No arm-waving allowed. If you can’t tell me how it happens explicitly then you’re full of crap. You’re the sheeple, you’re the parrot, not me. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” as Carl Sagan put it.

The funny thing is, we accept nonsense in the news far more readily than we accept nonsense in our own private lives. If we conducted our personal affairs with the same irresponsible disregard for facts that we conduct our beliefs about what goes on in the world “out there” our lives would be a disaster. When the cookie jar is smashed on the kitchen floor and little Tommy’s mouth is covered in cookie crumbs we don’t go in search of a Deep State explanation. We don’t assume he’s been set up. We go with the obvious. Even then, we ask Tommy questions. We listen to his side, too. We make rational decisions based on known facts. We each have our own private Due Process.

If ours were a culture where, whenever a politician or authority opened his or her mouth and made a claim, we insisted on evidence for that claim then and there, we wouldn’t have Donald Trump in the first place. Donald Trump thrives because our culture is simply too fuzzy about the rules of engagement. You have an extraordinary claim? Great, let’s hear the extraordinary evidence for it. And you’d better have lots of real science behind it and expert opinion to back you up.

If every claimant to some bizarre theory involving false flags, Deep States and UFOs understood that the burden of proof rests with them and them alone, and they had to provide that evidence or face scorn and ridicule, we’d have a lot less bullshit on the internet and a lot fewer politicians like Donald Trump.

Donald Trump recently proclaimed that 99% of coronavirus cases are “totally harmless” and his Chief of Staff backed him up on that. Neither would have said any such thing if they knew that they were expected — even required — to prove it. More to the point, even if the press didn’t demand proof, an educated and well-informed public would have. A public armed with full knowledge of the rules of engagement would have insisted that the claimant make with the science. Anything less should not be tolerated.


Before we can expect such responsibility to be practiced by politicians we must learn to practice it ourselves and insist it be taught in our schools. We on the left side of the political spectrum should be, above all, the rational ones. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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