Why I’m not going to talk to you about the election

If you were in the USA this past week, you probably noticed that the air around you felt like it was being set on fire. The social atmosphere seemed to speed up, as if every conversation was accelerating into a state of abject delirium. Even calm family conversations became tinged with a feverish pitch of obsessiveness, phone calls became excited shouting matches, and your phone blew up with tens, maybe hundreds of messages from people, all of whom are convinced that what they have to say about the matter is uniquely deserving of attention and thought.

Me and probably also you for the last 7 days

It isn’t unusual for elections to make people feel something like this, because in any democracy, a national election is of course supposed to be important. It’s normal for people to get excited, overwhelmed with joy, or even filled with grief, depending on whether the candidate they backed wins or loses. My experience visiting the bookies to collect the winnings I had gambled after a football match was largely the same – some people are cheerful, others are morose, yet life goes on. The problem with this week’s election isn’t necessarily the fact that these normal modalities of both positive and negative emotion seemed to be supercharged, as it were. Instead, the problem is that no-one seems to have noticed that it’s time to return to normality.

This week I chain-smoked the equivalent of hundreds of cigarettes, I drank ungodly amounts of coffee, and slept barely at all while stumbling through drunken election parties and rambunctious hangouts while getting barely anything done. And I’m not alone. A number of my friends and colleagues have attested to skipping out on sleep, work, or even their laundry while giving their attention singlemindedly to a political process that will not repay their temporal or emotional investment in kind. While many of us continue to spend time talking about the election, or chiming in with our own statistical observations, clickbaiting journalists are making more money – and more clicks – than ever before, selling speculations packaged as facts to a citizenry that is missing out on the events of real life that, ultimately, will matter more over the long haul.

Consider that among your friends and family, there is likely at least someone who had a birthday this last week. There may even be someone who had their first child, or suffered from the tragedy of bereavement or a deeply demoralizing life setback. All of these things should matter – and they do – but it seems for many of us that this election and its aftermath continues to hungrily consume all of our time and attention, as if this were not a standard democratic procedure but rather the new 9/11. With the legal challenges filed by the Trump campaign over the contested results and allegations of fraud in some states, we are now entering the second phase of this 9/11, or something like the political equivalent to the Iraq War. I have no intention of being a footsoldier in this war, and if you know what’s good for you, you won’t either.

Democracy, at its core, is nothing more than one of many political systems which aims to provide the solution to the following question: how should people live their lives in order for the best and most desirable outcomes to be achieved? Elections, being nothing but the means by which this process is conducted, must not become so disruptive that they actually detract from our quality of life and bring us further away from our own ambitions, hopes, dreams, and career successes. If we all continued to live our lives in the same manner as we’ve been living for the past week, then within half a year the United States would resemble the dystopian future Australia portrayed within Mad Max much more than it would any America we’d like to live in.

Admittedly, some of you reading this will find the advice herein does not apply to you. You are probably a journalist, or a political campaigner, or someone else whose career successes are fueled by unjustly stealing the attention and time of people whose unhealthy umbrage or delirious derangement means nothing to you but ‘profit’. For the rest of you, it might be a good idea to calibrate your daily activities in order to serve your own interests, not those of power hungry elites or parasitic journalists.

That doesn’t mean you need to become a hermit, or check out of social life completely. By all means, continue to connect with people at the end of a busy and productive workday, so you don’t lose contact with those who matter most. Continue to check the news to see what important things are happening in the world right now, both within and outside of the United States. Use your phone to check the weather, set your morning alarm, and listen to music while you’re on your way to work or at the gym, getting in some (probably much-needed) exercise. Anyone who cares about themselves more than an unrelated political process should be doing exactly that.

But if you’re not doing these things, and if you do continue to obsess over the election even at this point in time well after your ability to influence the outcome of events via voting has concluded, then you are demonstrating that you care less about yourself than you do a simple process. And if you let yourself become a tool of that process, or those who profit on it, at the expense of your wellbeing, then you are not being ‘politically aware’ or ‘informed’. You are being a cuck. And that is not something that most of us want to become.

Five reasons why our coronavirus guesstimations are dumb and wrong

For reasons that I struggle to understand, a lot of big-brained Twitter people feel the need to forecast the expected lifespan of this pandemic, and the death toll it is likely to incur over the next few months. Here are five reasons why, in most cases, this behavior is dumb and wrong, although with some exceptions that I’ll note below.

1. We don’t understand how the virus behaves

To construct a prediction about the future, we have to draw on evidence about the past and the present. We assume that the evidence we have at hand is accurate, and if we’re right about that then there’s at least some chance that our predictions will be accurate too. Unfortunately, in the case of coronavirus, this assumption has been false time and time again.

Yes, they actually tweeted this.

In January, we were told that the virus couldn’t spread from human-to-human contact. In February, progressive governments like Canada affirmed that there was no need to enforce border controls, and now Canada is closed to entry for all except citizens alone. We were told that coronavirus couldn’t be spread to or by animals, and now confirmed cases of corona infections among felines have been reported. In Britain, we were told that herd immunity was going to be the key to getting over corona, and now it is becoming evident that naturally acquired herd immunity may be functionally impossible in the short term due to antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) properties the virus is now known to possess.

Evidently, our governments failed to respond adequately to the risk imposed by coronavirus because they had faulty assumptions, and the short list of assumptions I’ve documented above is less than the tip of the iceberg. These short assumptions led to bad policy and got people killed. If you are trying to sell your models to policymakers based on your own flawed assumptions, then those deaths ought to be bearing very heavily on your conscience.

There is no reason to believe that our current global understanding of coronavirus is accurate either, so even at this stage models are still horrifically flawed. Only one country has issued a public advisory about the risks of “reactivation” in relation to coronavirus, whereas countries like the USA and UK are still strategizing as if getting the virus makes you immune. Models that are being drafted for use right now in government bureaus across the world are terribly flawed, and this will likely remain the case in the near future, because:

2. We don’t know how the virus will behave in the future

Viruses are not technically ‘alive’ under the generally agreed upon definitions used in biological science to describe lifeforms. But as with all life forms, mutation is a constant risk whenever replication at large scales is happening.

The mutations that have currently been documented for coronavirus are not guaranteed to transform it into a global black death that kills everyone it touches. But that doesn’t mean that such a scenario won’t happen – in truth, we simply cannot know. Projecting into the future about the likely death toll of coronavirus in Brazil based on the deaths in Germany, given that the reality of mutation makes it possible that the two countries will eventually end up with different strains of the virus that cannot be meaningfully compared in this way, is dangerous, dumb, and irresponsible.

3. We can’t compare the impact of corona in the first place

What counts as a coronavirus death? The official guidelines issued by the USA’s Center for Disease Control require that medical professionals report both confirmed and probable cases and deaths, and so the official statistics that get published are a confusing jumble of confirmation, conjecture, and comorbidity. A week ago, the implementation of these guidelines in New York State resulted in a 60% explosion in the total recorded death toll for coronavirus victims, even though people continued to die at the exact same rate as before. This exemplifies the significance of definitions and criteria in how we count the virus, and that matters for both the infected count and the death toll.

It turns out that the definitions make it utterly impossible to compare the impact of the virus internationally in any meaningful way. Since the ‘confirmed cases’ are understood to be widely underreported worldwide, as commonly only patients who are sick enough to require hospitalization get tested and counted, the death count is similarly subject to statistical distortion. A coronavirus death in the USA is not equal to a coronavirus death in Germany, and there are people dying right now at home from coronavirus whose deaths are neither confirmed nor counted. This is why critical information about the virus, like the total average case fatality rate that countries should plan to expect, remain widely disputed and unsettled. If your statistical model assumes the total average CFR is just below 1%, then perhaps opening up the economy might be a good idea. But if this assumption strays too far from the mark, a policy based on your model could feasibly kill tens of millions of people.

4. We are lying to ourselves about everything

In times like these, when precision and factual accuracy can impose unacceptable delays upon the primary task of saving lives, it is hard to say exactly what constitutes a lie. With that in mind, there are at least some cases where countries (i.e. China) blatantly distorted or even falsified statistical data relating to coronavirus – something the media decried as a ‘conspiracy theory’ until very recently. While the recent growth in recognition toward these deceptions is a good sign, China is very far from alone in this regard:

Note: I did not even mention corona in the search entry

But the lies don’t stop at deliberate underreporting – far from it. In February the US Surgeon General told Americans that masks are “NOT effective in preventing general public from catching” the coronavirus, and that they should neither buy nor wear them. As of now, many Western countries are beginning to step in line with East Asian countries like China and Korea, which encourage – and in some cases, legally demand – their citizens to wear masks. Germany has already done so, and compulsory masking laws will be enforced by police in multiple German regions by the end of April.  Hilariously, the US Surgeon General later backtracked on his initial lies about the inefficacy of masking by encouraging Americans to wear masks or ‘cloth face coverings‘ if they absolutely must go outside.

Most of you don’t need me to explain why these lies were broadcasted for months by both state and private media outlets in virtually every Western country. As you already know, this was the quintessential ‘noble lie’ – perhaps even the lie that will come to characterize this pandemic and the criminally incompetent response to it in the history books many years from now. Even in countries that pride themselves on having a ‘free press’ like the UK and USA, newspapers have to abide by governmentally issued reporting guidelines, or face serious repercussions. Without resorting to eccentric conspiracy theory explanations involving NWO or ‘depopulation’, it looks like Western governments simply panicked in the face of a public rush on masks, and facing the prospect of having an undersupply of masks for key frontline medical workers, they simply decided to lie. It’s distasteful, but ultimately rational, given that democratic governments are simply so incapable of ramping up the production of necessary medical supplies that they had no other choice. But yet again, the unfortunate truth is that the ‘Great Mask Conspiracy’ was only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s not just ‘masks don’t work’ – it’s everything. It’s ‘pets cant get coronavirus’ – something we were told very confidently earlier this year, which is now known to be utterly false. It’s ‘maintaining a 2-meter distance will keep you safe’ – yet another item in a long string of lies. Overall I can’t even be bothered to count the long list of lies we’ve been told, or to talk about the countless occasions where the media has decried those who spoke out against these lies by castigating them as conspiracy theorists, Russian bots, or other defamatory terms. If by some miracle you aren’t already aware of this by now, then you should probably go read a more comforting blog.

First I was like…

But then I was like…

What this means for the statistical forecasts you see in the news every day is self-explanatory. None of the projections you are reading, no matter how well-intentioned the data scientists who crafted them are, will be free from lies, deception, distortion, or propaganda. Calculations that are forged upon a bedrock of lies are unlikely to be true. There’s really no way around it.

5 (Bonus): Since we’re inundated by uncertainty, we should plan in preparation for the worst case scenario, and we don’t need pandemic projections to do that

By this point, you will hopefully agree with me: neither you nor I have any clue at all about how our societies will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic over the coming months, which means we don’t know what our lives will look like in the near future. In situations of extreme uncertainty, planning for the worst and hoping for the best is the most sensible thing you can do. If you forego the daily news updates and laughable puppet show broadcasts put on by your local politicians, you can focus on keeping a low profile, stocking up on food, water, and other essential items, and staying inside unless it becomes absolutely necessary to do otherwise. If the truth lies on the side of the optimists, then you will only lose the time you spent in the grocery store buying bottled water and tinned sardines. If, on the other hand, the pessimists happen to be right, then you’ll not only lose nothing – you’ll have saved your life.


By necessity, policymaking requires us to simplify the impossibly complex world into a finite set of manipulable variables, and most of the time this is a good way of doing things. If you’re directly involved in the policymaking process, or if you need to make hard financial decisions in the context of your investment portfolio, your job, or your small business, then it’s obviously reasonable to survey the landscape of expert opinion and decide for yourself which forecasts seem most reliable. If those conditions don’t apply to you, and you don’t stand to make immediate financial gain from being right about this, then stop wasting your life.

Evil as entertainment

You may be aware that Netflix has a new documentary series on infamous 20th century serial killer Ted Bundy. The Ted Bundy Tapes, as the series is entitled, utilizes ostensibly unknown footage to produce a new, more detailed portrait of the killer and his actions.

I watched the first episode of Netflix’s with my partner and a roommate. As I test relatively low in disgust sensitivity (20-50th percentile on the disgust scale) and extremely high in openness to experience (99th percentile BFI) I did not expect to be particularly unnerved or unsettled. I also have no problem with representations of violence or evil in film – Upgrade, one of my favorite films of all time, features brutal violence that ends with the bad guy getting away with it.

Yet to my immense surprise, this doc completely shut me down.

The Tapes begins with Bundy’s childhood, and sketches the chronological progression of his transformation into America’s most infamous serial killer. No violence is shown onscreen; the relatively tame crime scene photographs constitute the only PG-13 material on screen. Scene-by-scene, the content left nothing to be disturbed by.

Yet what both grips and horrifies the viewer at the same time is the interplay between the atrocious violence of Ted Bundy, retold with consistently palpable glee on audio, and the helpless, frustrated horror it caused, as retold by whose who knew his victims. The constant back-and-forth tennis match between Bundy’s reveling in his murders and the tortured confusion of the communities and families gives way to an emergent property of abject horror that by far outstrips anything one might expect to see in even the worst of horror films.

As a curious teen with an internet connection, I recall many times stumbling across grotesque shock videos on the dark corners of the internet. Images and videos of women in high-heels stepping on cats, among other unspeakably sick things involving children or animals. I recall struggling to analyze my own disgusted emotions at the time, and realizing that a key factor lay in the helplessness of the victims depicted. Obviously, it isn’t hard to step on a cat because a cat can’t defend itself; what keeps us from abusing animals and people isn’t the difficulty of the act, but the fact that every moral sensibility, innate or acquired, tells us not to do so.

Upon analysis, the actions of Ted Bundy seem strikingly similar. It was not hard, in the overwhelmingly white areas of 1970s America that Bundy victimized, to gain someone’s trust – but to abuse that trust, and the person offering it, would have been unthinkable.

Bundy reveled in that unthinkability. In the documentary, we see him boasting about gaining the trust of women whom he later violates and brutally murders. The shock value derived from his unspeakable crimes is precisely what motivates him to retell them to the recording interviewer.

It’s not particularly surprising that this experience left me as shocked and disgusted as it likely did his interviewer. But by feeling the reaction he intended, I gave him – even in death – exactly what he wanted. The entire audiovisual experience of this Netflix series inadvertently validates the motive behind Bundy’s psychopathic crimes in the first place.

Is it good that we make documentaries designed to give serial killers what they want, even in death? Probably not. Many news sites have already started anonymizing school shooters to address this very problem. Netflix’s commercialization of it is thus something I want nothing more to do with.

Narratives of conversion

A while ago I was doing a research project on converts to Islam and their motivations through qualitative self-reports, which I collated into a series of ‘types’ or narrative trends. Here’s what I found.

For many in the increasingly multicultural, heterogeneous, disoriented West, Islam provides a specific identity by which they can define themselves and their relationships with other entities in the world.

A young guy at my gym (16) who recently converted to Islam is an example; he is son to a white father who abandoned his black immigrant mother before he was born, and described to me the difficulties of identification at school. He was being raised by a black mother in a black neighborhood, but looks more white. Islam grants him a consistent in-group with which he can find solidarity. He knows absolutely nothing about the theological aspects of Islam and hasn’t read the Qur’an, but takes pride in his new identity as a Muslim and often drops standard Muslim vocab (hamdulillah, mashallah, etc).

His newly obtained insider status he displays frequently, saying ‘we’ (Muslims) and ‘you’ (non-Muslims) even though he only converted a few months ago. Previously, as a ‘white’ looking kid yet also a product of a black subculture, there were presumably fewer individuals he could feel connected with in the same way.

The West is increasingly irreligious, but the human need for spirituality remains a motivating factor in many of our lives. We naturally seek out something to fill that void. For many, Christianity seems ‘weak’ and ‘feminine’ in comparison to a much more ‘muscular’ and uncompromising Islam. The level of piety displayed by self-declared Christians, many of whom do not go to church and the vast majority of whom do not do anything ‘Christian’ above that, might also seem ‘shallow’ in comparison to Muslims, who (ostentatiously) display strong degrees of religious attachment and faith.

For some, then, a quest for spirituality and a desire to know the ‘truth’ of existence can drive them towards religion; Islam will often be the obvious choice due to its constant proselytizing, its muscularity and universal presence, and the unwavering faith (and total lack of doubt) of the vast majority of its adherents. As a convert, I myself fell into this category.

Islam is a religion, but that religion mandates a specific way of life for its adherents in a way that no other organized religion does. While this is authoritarian, many people in the West, especially young people, feel that this gives them a sense of purpose; they are no longer sleeping in until 1 in the morning on weekends, but waking up for fajr at 5 AM.

Not only that, but they have a clear template for how to live their lives; do this, do that, and things will all turn out fine. For many, these firm guidelines bestow upon their lives a sense of drive that would otherwise be lacking. There are also clear tiers of accomplishment and progression that allows someone to feel successful; memorizing surahs, for example, or improving one’s tajweed gives a sense of achievement that is otherwise lacking for many people, especially those in dead-end jobs or careers.

Indigenous women are the largest source of converts to Islam in Europe. Islam assigns women a clear role as homemakers submissive to their husbands (4:34) and although this may seem counterintuitive, some women (not only underachievers) are quite happy to be just that, and feel uncomfortable with an increased burden of responsibility placed upon them by feminism and the equality of the sexes, which demands they do more. For them, Islam gives them a more ‘traditional’ template which not only does not punish them for not taking on a career and being a stay-at-home mom, but in fact rewards them for it.

I feel like narratives around conversion in prisons is also something worth examining, as it is happening at an alarming rate in the UK and often results in the emergence of religious gangs within prisons openly exposing extremist views, which can impede reintegration. I’m currently reading more on this phenomenon.

Another type, the ‘decolonialist’ type of conversion, is observed particularly in the United States, where Islam has been seen as a more authentically ‘African’ religion, ever since the 1930s with the founding of the Nation of Islam movement. Prominent individuals like Malcolm X have popularized this model, and many black Americans feel that they have a collective grievance against Christianity for slavery which is best solved by turning to Islam. The MASSIVE increase in appropriated names of Arabic origin in the black American community is symptomatic of this trend.

Losing my glasses and seeing reality

Myopia runs strong on both sides of my family, so it wasn’t so much of a surprise when I began to lose my eyesight while in China last year (I am 24 years old, for reference). While it happened gradually enough that I was under no illusions as to what was going on, it still came as quite of a shock given that I had always – even in my early 20s – been proud of how much more ‘able’ I was than my lens-bound parents and relatives.

Of course China is the glasses capital of the world, so I was able to alleviate my state of hindrance by purchasing a (relatively cheap) pair of excellent glasses that allowed me to see better than I had in years. I’ve worn these since and practically forgotten about my blindness in the course of doing so.

Yesterday, I left my glasses at a house after attending a party, but I still have to work because I’m on a 9-5 schedule. Having to squint to merely make out the writing on a computer screen just a foot away from me, and maximize all the windows simply so I can see is a pretty humbling experience. It’s a reminder that almost all aspects of our ‘normal’ lives are enabled by a complex web of industry and technology working in cohesion to bring us a better quality of life enabled by the profit motive. Without that, we’d have nothing. We would still be troglodytes in caves; tribesmen on the African savannah.

One day, that web will collapse. Anyone skeptical of this proposition should realize that their denialism is equivalent to asserting that humans and the (exceedingly fragile) societies we have built up will last forever. In ‘real’ reality, there is no forever. There is only entropy, particle decay, and the heat death of the universe. There is only the greed of men, the biological impetus to reproduce, and the blazing heat of the atomic fire that one day will rend our very atoms asunder.

It may seem strange that losing one’s glasses could provide so poignant an opportunity to recognize and reflect these facts. But it is the experience of loss, and the revelatory acknowledgment of one’s own vulnerability, that allows us to recognize that our diligently hidden fragility is no less a part of us than it is a part of the human condition. That ephemerality, I think, is what makes life valuable. That is why life must be protected. But it is also the reason why the atavistic reversion to our pre-civilized state is never as far away as we might like to think.