If there were a lifetime limit to the number of WTFs I could mutter, I would have used all of them up during this pandemic.
“Mind-boggling” is the G-Rated adjective I now use when people ask me what I think of all of this.
From our removal of the Pandemic Response Unit, to wasting time with no plan or leadership at the beginning and even still now, to the politicization of medicines, to 100,000 people dead while folks still compare it to flu or heroin, and of course, the mountain of supplement misinformation—I am perplexed at the depths and the pride of modern ignorance.
Let it be known that I’m not directing this at you. I’m not speaking to the person who reads my stuff, enjoys it, gains value from it, and actually follows the recommendations I make or other responsible bits of advice.
I’m talking to a wall.
Like many others, I’m saying the right things in the right way and I’m saying them in the right frequency with the right reach to the right people. Half of the time, give or take 10%, We’re talking to the wall.
No matter what is said, there are a scary number of people who stand “resolute” with their dripping-wet-with-propaganda-soaked talking points. They are immune to facts and believe my “opinion”—regardless of the fact it is a PROFESSIONAL opinion—is inferior to their “read” of the “information.”
I’d be more effective making my speeches posted up six inches from any wall in any room.
The truth is that this wall we find ourselves speaking to is a crumbling, poor excuse for a structure. This rant touches on some of the newest bits of spackle dust and sheetrock falling from it and offers some advice for handling these unresponsive and negative voices among us.
Quality Conversations with Effective Results
All of my conversations have been extremely effective at getting people to understand COVID. As they used to say in the ’90s: “NOT!”
I don’t want to use hyperbole, so I’ll dial it back. Most people ARE hip to what’s going on, want to do the right thing, and engage in minimal, if not zero, misinformation.
But, I am finding a number of things that were debunked long ago, or often, or loudly, are still topics of conversation after like 100 weeks in quarantine.
I want to present a few dead horses that need to be repeatedly beaten in 2020 because opinions are better than science and we’re all screaming at a wall all day:
- Groups think Bill Gates is going to microchip them with vaccines, despite using social media that tracks their every move and builds a psychological profile about them, have listening devices in their homes a la Alexa or their cell phone, and type their complaints and share their misinformation memes using Windows-based computers
- A large portion of people STILL think this is a hoax
- We still talk about hydroxychloroquine, despite the number of trials proving little benefit with great risks. France prohibited the use, but I still got a question about it TODAY on a community radio station, where I believe the listener was trying to blame Cuomo from restricting use!
- Some folks, still to this day, believe this is a man-made virus despite the fact we KNOW our virus, the more deadly one here in America, is a European mutation.
- People now say stay at home orders didn’t do anything, despite evidence to the contrary. In New York, I still believe we were about a week too late, and that time could have saved 30,000 lives or more.
- We still compare this to the flu, despite the death toll being multiples greater in a few months.
- We now compare it to other causes of death, like automobiles or heroin. Straw man arguments don’t work, and I have not caught second-hand opioid addiction because someone sneezed.
And, I saved the best for last. Something I mentioned early in this conversation. Something that’s trending in the misinformation circle: It wasn’t that bad.
I’ve seen this sentiment on social media WAY too much lately, especially from more rural or less population-dense states.
We should stop talking to the wall and instead start banging our head against it.
One graphic puts this to rest, so I’ll let the picture do the talking:
There are two “talking-to-a-wall” level conversations that need to be discussed on their own because they highlight the central thesis of this article: if we allow people to spread their nonsense and be disengaged from facts, it spreads with a greater R0 value than COVID with a greater detriment to society.
Both of those points revolve around masks.
Masks Will Help You
How many times does this need to be said?
Look, wall, it’s simple: We have evidence showing that a population using masks to prevent themselves from getting sick does not work. They don’t have the proper fit or seal, they get adjusted, and end up being a false sense of security, so people take more risks and actually touch their faces more.
BUT – Now we have evidence that everyone wearing masks will HELP stop carriers from spreading the disease, and in particular THIS disease.
Notice how I said “HELP” in big capital, bold letters?
The wall often believes in absolutes, like a Sith. It’s not masks or nothing. It’s masks WITH EVERYTHING ELSE FOR ALL THAT IS HOLY!!!
Masks PLUS Distancing PLUS Handwashing = 80% reduced transmission
I know nuance can be tough for a wall to process, but here’s the complete picture: Masks (of any grade, but higher filtration the better) + Distancing (at least 6’ for normal breathing or conversations, but much bigger to be safe) + Handwashing (as often as humanly possible, but every time you have direct contact or share contact with a surface or object).
Here’s a highly clinical diagram to show how it works:
Ok, here’s a real version:
It’s about the microboogies. Masks stop big microboogies and decrease the distance small ones fly. No matter the grade of mask, it will make an impact!
I believe the people who downplay any face covering are taking a myopic view. They’ve never read an abstract, let alone a full paper or review on the subject. If they have, there’s a better-than-average chance they don’t know statistics or to sort the trash from good science.
I don’t blame people who don’t understand or who haven’t read the data who have a question about the effectiveness of masks. PLEASE, ask your questions. My problem is with the people who are out to put down those who wear masks, to brag openly about not allowing masks in their business, or are convinced ALL masks are ineffective because I guess we need to get 100% or it’s not worth it.
Masks Will Not Hurt You
A part of one of the big conspiracy videos that circulated was how masks hurt you. If you believe you are “breathing in concentrated virus,” “weakening your immune system,” “at increased suffocation risk,” or whatever, it is directly the result of active misinformation campaigns used to sow dissent. NOT BASED ON SCIENCE.
The newest is this “Mask-ne”, an acne that is caused due to the irritation on the skin. It’s not a real concern, and the social media campaign was actually using an unrelated stock photo to scare people:
The lady’s getting botox! She doesn’t wear a mask. She’s probably very happy, or at least she looks like she’s always smiling after that procedure…
It’s a rant, so I can say this: suck it up.
Yes, it’s irritating. A properly fit mask that can’t be adjusted throughout a 12-hour shift leaves huge marks on a medical professional’s face. The whole experience can be very unpleasant for any of us. I don’t love it.
Since it will help get us back to “normal”—an outcome we ALL want—let’s mask up, deal with the irritation and slight inconvenience, and help stop the spread of this thing.
The misinformation brigade will come up with more and more made-up mask “cons” because putting down proven masks and supporting unproven medications instead is what we do now.
You’re Fighting the Wrong People
On my social feed, an image was shared that depicted small business owners as forcefully closing their doors, locking people out with “no level of PPE” being acceptable.
On the other panel is a big box store with happy, unmasked people buying their worthless nonsense while being welcomed by big, bright “open to all” signs.
Forget the fact that this shows more wrong with the person posting it and society as a whole, this image was used by a member of the community to attack other members of the community when they’re at their most vulnerable. No income. Risks to their employees, customers, family, and themselves.
An Atlanta TV News station ran a story, “Two hairstylists expose 140 clients to COVID-19” but neglect to mention the fact that the state reopened unsafely, meaning these people had to choose between working during a pandemic or going out of business.
The wall likes to blame everyone else except who is responsible.
Regardless, we have to stop cutting each other down.
Telling people masks don’t work and they wear masks because it makes them feel safe/warm and squishy is both inherently wrong and inflammatory.
We are so entrenched into our beliefs that even honest criticism must be avoided. Heaven forbid we actually blame the Trump administration for not only not doing anything, but essentially doing the opposite of what should be done at every turn.
If we collectively dealt with our frustrations, anger, concerns, and fears better and directed our efforts at helping each other and holding elected officials accountable, we might actually get things done!
It’s easy to put down someone who is presenting misinformation, just as it’s easy for them to call you weak and “Un-American.” None of it helps. You’re talking to a wall. These voices are just a part of our new normal.
Quieting the Voices
For those bombarded with negativity and astonishingly frustrating conversations: stay the course.
Don’t go out if you don’t have to. Wear a mask or face covering. Stay physically separated. Wash your hands FREQUENTLY if in public.
Like the part of the brain that just talks without any rationality and often in a contradictory nature, parts of society are doing that as well.
I feel it’s in the inability to quiet that part of the brain in a healthy manner that causes most of our anxiety and depression. We can scratch the itch in a number of unhealthy ways, and one of them is to push it outward and act impulsively.
Social media gives us ALL a place to scratch that itch, posting these tense, sometimes irrational thoughts, and then getting validation for them via likes and comments.
With your own thoughts, the more healthful approach is to breathe. Focus your attention away from that part of your brain. What that clump of cells “say” doesn’t matter, nor is it necessarily “real.” Practice re-focusing your attention to what is real—the current moment.
The more healthful approach to dealing with the clump of PEOPLE speaking irrationally is the same. Breathe. Refocus. What they say doesn’t matter, nor is it necessarily real.
That can be read for whatever “side” of the manufactured “debates” you sit, and you can use it to dig down deeper or to reinforce an echo chamber.
To that point, meditation and mindfulness help to deal with the moment and return to reality, but a lifetime of this practice is much more rewarding.
It allows us to step back and observe all of it, in particular how our upbringing, conditioning, peer group, (mis)information sources all influence the “beliefs” we cling to so desperately.
It helps us ensure that “reality” we return to—from the clump of cells or clump of people—isn’t just another comfort construct or echo chamber.
The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit
I won’t leave you on such a positive, warm-and-fuzzy note in a rant. Sarcasm is my exit plan.
Those who constitute this proverbial wall don’t understand the most important part of all of this: there’s a cost of misinformation, and it’s in human lives. One hundred thousand and counting. It’s about to get bad in the more rural areas with the abrupt, unsafe reopen.
We see it coming, we want to warn the world, yet we’re here talking to a wall.
Many of us say, “save your breath.” I don’t believe we should.
Talking to a wall is frustrating because we’re trying to make someone do something they don’t want to do. This is the inherent problem. We need to not attach to a desire to change people’s minds. This attachment is what causes the emotional turbulence within ourselves.
We have to stop lending value or credence to the loud negative voices (in our heads or in society). As I said before, it’s not real or relevant, so just breathe and refocus.
We must be aware of the Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit: “It takes an exponentially greater effort to refute bullshit than it does to create it.”
Misinformation must be combatted, but not to sway the opinion of a wall. We must put more positivity and good information out into the world for the benefit of those susceptible to becoming a wall themselves.
And, for an extra special bonus, we may just convert a wall back to a listening, thoughtful human. It’s a low chance, but there is one.
We must be a part of that exponentially greater effort to refute the bullshit. Now, and at every opportunity, we should present direct quotes, official records, facts, evidence, and science until the wall is no longer an unresponsive piece of lumber, but a billboard of truth.
Just trying to keep it real…
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth