21 Perversions Inflicted by Wokeness

The list is provided by Gad Saad in his article and video Welcome To The Abyss of Infinite Lunacy.  Psychologist and author of “The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense,” Gad Saad, warns that society is descending into an abyss of ultimate lunacy. Text in italics with my bolds and images.

GAD SAAD: The rate at which our society is tumbling into madness is truly bewildering.

One, it is now racist for a white person to translate the work of a black person.

Two, it is now homophobic for a straight actor to play a gay role.

Three, it is now racist for a white therapist to treat a black client.

Four, it is now racist to have advanced high school programs.

Five, it is now transphobic for biological females to reject having to compete against trans women.

Six, it is now Islamophobic to criticize any tenets of Islam.

Seven, it is now science denialism to question the ongoing COVID lockdowns.

Eight, it is now science denialism to question any tenet stemming from climate change alarmists.

Nine, it is now epistemological bigotry, yes I coined that term, to support the scientific method as the means by which you adjudicate scientific hypothesis.

Ten, it is now racist to argue that mathematics yields right and wrong answers.

Eleven, it is now racist to promote the ethos of individual dignity over collectivist identity politics.

Twelve, it is now racist to question a noble person of color, be it a famous athlete or celebrity.

Thirteen, it is now transphobic to posit that only women menstruate.

Fourteen, it is now racist to publicly proclaim your support for “wrongthink” black individuals such as Thomas Sowell or Larry Elder.

Fifteen, it is now misogynist to note that women greatly outnumber men in universities.

Sixteen, it is now sexist to publish scientific research that yields sex differences that are contrary to accepted politically correct Orthodoxy.

Seventeen, it is now racist to point to FBI murder stats broken down by inter-racial markers.

Eighteen, it is now racist to openly support national borders.

Nineteen, it is now racist to seek to curb immigration from countries whose values are anti-liberal.

Twenty, it is now racist to not decolonize philosophy and literature departments.

Twenty-one, it is now racist to request that job offers be based on the merits of an individual rather than their immutable traits.

Stress Testing for Media Bias

I was recently reminded (H/T pHil R) about Michael Crichton’s insight into our vulnerability to media bias.  He called it the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, named after his friend, physicist Gell-Mann. 

“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

Howard Wetsman MD takes it from there in his article A New Corollary to the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, suggesting how to approach media reports with critical intelligence. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

The corollary came to me the other day when I was reading an email string on Addiction Medicine. A couple of fathers of the field had written an article in one of those non-peer reviewed clinical newspapers that each specialty has and shared it with the group. They were showered with praise, so I started reading what they wrote. I was struck that the assumptions they made in their article directly contradicted several of the working assumptions of the group, yet the group expressed nearly universal approval with the conclusions of the article.

So the Hunt Assumption Amnesia Corollary is when experts start reading a paper, note that they disagree with some basic assumptions of the work, but keep reading and accept the conclusions, forgetting they had rejected the assumptions. This effect is rife in Addiction Medicine, and, I suspect, much of academia.

When I first learned to read a scientific paper, I was taught to go through the various sections to understand the limitations of the conclusions I’d read at the end. Did they select the subjects correctly? Did they use the right test for the question? Did they have enough subjects to power the study sufficiently? And many other important questions.

But I’ve come to find in the fullness of time that there are really only two questions I need to know when reading a paper. Were the authors aware that their assumptions are assumptions, and are they questioning them?

I want to pose my own testable hypothesis about how this corollary effect occurs. I think, if I’m right, that we’ll see it in all media.

First, the assumption is stated as fact, but in a muted way so that it slides past the readers assumption filter rather than slamming headlong into it. Then data is piled up to bolster the writer’s thesis by generalizing findings in particular situations to all situations. So, by the end of the piece any disagreement with the assumption is forgotten under the weight of “the evidence.”

A previous post is reprinted below showing how a journalism professor prepares his students to read critically media reports concerning climate change/global warming.

Decoding Climate News

Journalism professor David Blackall provides a professional context for investigative reporting I’ve been doing on this blog, along with other bloggers interested in science and climate change/global warming. His peer reviewed paper is Environmental Reporting in a Post Truth World. The excerpts below show his advice is good not only for journalists but for readers.  h/t GWPF, Pierre Gosselin

Overview: The Grand Transnational Narrative

The dominance of a ‘grand transnational narrative’ in environmental discourse (Mittal, 2012) over other human impacts, like deforestation, is problematic and is partly due to the complexities and overspecialization of climate modelling. A strategy for learning, therefore, is to instead focus on the news media: it is easily researched and it tends to act ‘as one driving force’, providing citizens with ‘piecemeal information’, making it impossible to arrive at an informed position about science, society and politics (Marisa Dispensa et al., 2003). After locating problematic news narratives, Google Scholar can then be employed to locate recent scientific papers that examine, verify or refute news media discourse.

The science publication Nature Climate Change this year, published a study demonstrating Earth this century warmed substantially less than computer-generated climate models predict.

Unfortunately for public knowledge, such findings don’t appear in the news. Sea levels too have not been obeying the ‘grand transnational narrative’ of catastrophic global warming. Sea levels around Australia 2011–2012 were measured with the most significant drops in sea levels since measurements began. . .The 2015–2016 El-Niño, a natural phenomenon, drove sea levels around Indonesia to low levels such that coral reefs were bleaching. The echo chamber of news repeatedly fails to report such phenomena and yet many studies continue to contradict mainstream news discourse.

facebook2bnew2blike2bbuttons2bfinal-970-80I will be arguing that a number of narratives need correction, and while I accept that the views I am about to express are not universally held, I believe that the scientific evidence does support them.

The Global Warming/Climate Change Narrative

The primary narrative in need of correction is that global warming alone (Lewis, 2016), which induces climate change (climate disruption), is due to the increase in global surface temperatures caused by atmospheric greenhouse gases. Instead, there are many factors arising from human land use (Pielke et al., 2016), which it could be argued are responsible for climate change, and some of these practices can be mitigated through direct public action.

Global warming is calculated by measuring average surface temperatures over time. While it is easy to argue that temperatures are increasing, it cannot be argued, as some models contend, that the increases are uniform throughout the global surface and atmosphere. Climate science is further problematized by its own scientists, in that computer modelling, as one component of this multi-faceted science, is privileged over other disciplines, like geology.

Scientific uncertainty arises from ‘simulations’ of climate because computer models are failing to match the actual climate. This means that computer models are unreliable in making predictions.

Published in the eminent journal Nature (Ma, et. al., 2017), ‘Theory of chaotic orbital variations confirmed by Cretaceous geological evidence’, provides excellent stimulus material for student news writing. The paper discusses the severe wobbles in planetary orbits, and these affect climate. The wobbles are reflected in geological records and show that the theoretical climate models are not rigorously confirmed by these radioisotopically calibrated and anchored geological data sets. Yet popular discourse presents Earth as harmonious: temperatures, sea levels and orbital patterns all naturally balanced until global warming affects them, a mythical construct. Instead, the reality is natural variability, the interactions of which are yet to be measured or discovered (Berger, 2013).

In such a (media) climate, it is difficult for the assertion to be made that there might be other sources, than a nontoxic greenhouse gas called carbon dioxide (CO2), that could be responsible for ‘climate disruption’. A healthy scientific process would allow such a proposition. Contrary to warming theory, CO2 levels have increased, but global average temperatures remain steady. The global average temperature increased from 1983 to 1998; then, it flat-lined for nearly 20 years. James Hansen’s Hockey Stick graph, with soaring and catastrophic temperatures, simply did not materialize.

As Keenan et al. (2016) found through using global carbon budget estimates, ground, atmospheric and satellite observations, and multiple global vegetation models that there is also now a pause in the growth rate of atmospheric CO2. They attribute this to increases in terrestrial sinks over the last decade, where forests consume the rising atmospheric CO2 and rapidly grow—the net effect being a slowing in the rate of warming from global respiration.

Contrary to public understanding, higher temperatures in cities are due to a phenomenon known as the ‘urban heat effect’ (Taha, 1997; Yuan & Bauer, 2007). Engines, air conditioners, heaters and heat absorbing surfaces like bitumen radiate heat energy in urban areas, but this is not due to the greenhouse effect. Problematic too are data sets like ocean heat temperatures, sea-ice thickness and glaciers: all of which are varied, some have not been measured or there are insignificant measurement time spans for the data to be reliable.

Contrary to news media reports, some glaciers throughout the world (Norway [Chinn et al., 2005] and New Zealand [Purdie et al., 2008]) are growing, while others shrink (Paul et al., 2007).

Conclusion

This is clearly a contentious topic. There are many agendas at play, with careers at stake. My view represents one side of the debate: it is one I strongly believe in, and is, I contend, supported by the science around deforestation, on the ground, rather than focusing almost entirely on atmosphere. However, as a journalism educator, I also recognize that my view, along with others, must be open to challenge, both within the scientific community and in the court of public opinion.

As a journalism educator, it is my responsibility to provide my students with the research skills they need to question—and test—the arguments put forward by the key players in any debate. Given the complexity of the climate warming debate, and the contested nature of the science that underpins both sides, this will provide challenges well into the future. It is a challenge our students should relish, particularly in an era when they are constantly being bombarded with ‘fake news’ and so-called ‘alternative facts’.

To do so, they need to understand the science. If they don’t, they need to at least understand the key players in the debate and what is motivating them. They need to be prepared to question these people and to look beyond their arguments to the agendas that may be driving them. If they don’t, we must be reconciled to a future in which ‘fake news’ becomes the norm.

Examples of my investigative reports are in Data Vs. Models posts listed at Climate Whack-a-Mole

See also Yellow Climate Journalism

Some suggestions for reading critically National Climate Assessment reports is at Impaired Climate Vision

 

 

Media Chose to Lie, Not Go Broke

Martin Gurri tells the story how legacy print and tv news descended into deceit and rabble-rousing when faced with decline and eventual bankruptcy.  His article Slouching Toward Post-Journalism at City Journal is a thorough and probing analysis, of which only some excerpts are posted here, in italics with my bolds and images. The journey of the NY Times exemplifies how and why mass media went from informing to inflaming the public.

The New York Times and other elite media outlets have openly embraced advocacy over reporting.

Traditional newspapers never sold news; they sold an audience to advertisers. To a considerable degree, this commercial imperative determined the journalistic style, with its impersonal voice and pretense of objectivity. The aim was to herd the audience into a passive consumerist mass. Opinion, which divided readers, was treated like a volatile substance and fenced off from “factual” reporting.

The digital age exploded this business model. Advertisers fled to online platforms, never to return. For most newspapers, no alternative sources of revenue existed: as circulation plummets to the lowest numbers on record, more than 2,000 dailies have gone silent since the turn of the century. The survival of the rest remains an open question.

Led by the New York Times, a few prominent brand names moved to a model that sought to squeeze revenue from digital subscribers lured behind a paywall. This approach carried its own risks. The amount of information in the world was, for practical purposes, infinite. As supply vastly outstripped demand, the news now chased the reader, rather than the other way around. Today, nobody under 85 would look for news in a newspaper.

Under such circumstances, what commodity could be offered for sale?

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Times stumbled onto a possible answer. It entailed a wrenching pivot from a journalism of fact to a “post-journalism” of opinion—a term coined, in his book of that title, by media scholar Andrey Mir. Rather than news, the paper began to sell what was, in effect, a creed, an agenda, to a congregation of like-minded souls. Post-journalism “mixes open ideological intentions with a hidden business necessity required for the media to survive,” Mir observes. The new business model required a new style of reporting. Its language aimed to commodify polarization and threat: journalists had to “scare the audience to make it donate.” At stake was survival in the digital storm.

The experiment proved controversial. It sparked a melodrama over standards at the Times, featuring a conflict between radical young reporters and befuddled middle-aged editors. In a crucible of proclamations, disputes, and meetings, the requirements of the newspaper as an institution collided with the post-journalistic call for an explicit struggle against injustice.

The old media had needed happy customers. The goal of post-journalism, according to Mir, is to “produce angry citizens.” The August 2016 article marked the point of no return in the spiritual journey of the New York Times from newspaper of record to Vatican of liberal political furor. While the impulse originated in partisan herd instinct, the discovery of a profit motive would make the change irrevocable. Rutenberg professed to find the new approach “uncomfortable” and, “by normal standards, untenable”—but the fault, he made clear, lay entirely with the “abnormal” Trump, whose toxic personality had contaminated journalism. He was the active principle in the headline “The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity.”

A cynic (or a conservative) might argue that objectivity in political reporting was more an empty boast than a professional standard and that the newspaper, in pandering to its audience, had long favored an urban agenda, liberal causes, and Democratic candidates. This interpretation misses the transformation in the depths that post-journalism involved. The flagship American newspaper had turned in a direction that came close to propaganda. The oppositional stance, as Mir has noted, cannot coexist with newsroom independence: writers and editors were soon to be punished for straying from the cause. The news agenda became narrower and more repetitive as journalists focused on a handful of partisan controversies—an effect that Mir labeled “discourse concentration.”  The New York Times, as a purveyor of information and a political institution, had cut itself loose from its own history.

[The Russia Collusion story] was one of the most extraordinary episodes in American politics—and the first sustained excursion into post-journalism by the American news media, led every step of the way by the New York Times.

Future media historians may hold the Trump-Russia story to be a laboratory-perfect specimen of discourse concentration. For nearly two years, it towered over the information landscape and devoured the attention of the media and the public. The total number of articles on the topic produced by the Times is difficult to measure, but a Google search suggests that it was more than 3,000—the equivalent, if accurate, of multiple articles per day for the period in question. This was journalism as if conducted under the impulse of an obsessive-compulsive personality. Virtually every report either implied or proclaimed culpability. Every day in the news marked the beginning of the Trumpian End Times.

The sum of all this sound and fury was . . . zero. The most intensively covered story in history turned out to be empty of content. Mueller’s investigation “did not identify evidence that any US persons conspired or coordinated” with the Russians. Mueller’s halting television appearance in July 2019 convinced even the most vehement partisans that he was not the knight to slay the dragon in the White House. After two years of media frenzy came an awkward moment. The New York Times had reorganized its newsroom to pursue this single story—yet, just as it had missed Trump’s coming, the paper failed to see that Trump would stay.

Yet what looked like journalistic failure was, in fact, an astonishing post-journalistic success. The intent of post-journalism was never to represent reality or inform the public but to arouse enough political fervor in readers that they wished to enter the paywall in support of the cause. This was ideology by the numbers—and the numbers were striking. Digital subscriptions to the New York Times, which had been stagnant, nearly doubled in the first year of Trump’s presidency. By August 2020, the paper had 6 million digital subscribers—six times the number on Election Day 2016 and the most in the world for any newspaper.

The Russian collusion story, though refuted objectively, had been validated subjectively, by the growth in the congregation of the paying faithful.

In throwing out the old textbook, post-journalism made transgression inevitable. In July 2019, Jonathan Weisman, who covered Congress for the Times and happened to be white, questioned on Twitter the legitimacy of leftist members of the House who happened to be black. Following criticism, Weisman deleted the offending tweets and apologized elaborately, but he was demoted nonetheless.

The dramatic confrontation had been triggered by Weisman’s tweets and the heretical headline but was really about the boundaries of expression—what was allowed and what was taboo—in a post-objective, post-journalistic time. On the contentious subjects of Trump and race, managers and reporters at the paper appeared to hold similar opinions. No one in the room defended Trump as a normal politician whose views deserved a hearing. No one questioned the notion that the United States, having elected Trump, was a fundamentally racist country. But as Baquet fielded long and pointed questions from his staff, it became clear that management and newsroom—which translated roughly to middle age and youth—held radically divergent visions of the post-journalism future.

Unlike management, the reporters were active on social media, where they had to face the most militant elements of the subscriber base. In this way, they represented the forces driving the information agenda. Baquet had disparaged Twitter and insisted that the Times would not be edited by social media. He was mistaken. The unrest in the newsroom had been propelled by outrage on the web, and the paper had quickly responded. Generational attitudes, displayed on social media, allowed no space for institutional loyalty. Baquet had demoted Weisman because of his inappropriate behavior—but the newsroom turned against him because he had picked a fight with the wrong enemy.

Two days after the town hall meeting, the New York Times inaugurated, in its magazine section, the “1619 Project”—an attempt, said Baquet, “to try to understand the forces that led to the election of Donald Trump.” Rather than dig deep into the “half of America” that had voted for the president, the newspaper chose to blame the events of 2016 on the country’s pervasive racism, not only here and now but everywhere and always.

The 1619 Project rode the social-justice ambitions of the newsroom to commodify racial polarization—and, not incidentally, to fill the void left by Robert Mueller’s failure to launch.

The project showed little interest in investigative reporting or any other form of old-school journalism. It produced no exposés of present-day injustice. Instead, it sold agenda-setting on a grand scale: the stated mission was to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the center of our national narrative.” The reportorial crunch implicit in this high-minded posture might be summarized as “All the news that’s fit to reframe history.”

The 1619 Project has come under fire for its extreme statements and many historical inaccuracies. Yet critics missed the point of the exercise, which was to stake out polarizing positions in the mode of post-truth: opinions could be transformed into facts if held passionately enough. The project became another post-journalistic triumph for the Times. Public school systems around the country have included the material in their curricula. Hannah-Jones received a Pulitzer Prize for her “sweeping, provocative, and personal essay”—possibly the first award offered for excellence in post-journalism. The focus on race propelled the Times to the vanguard of establishment opinion during the convulsions that followed the death of George Floyd under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.

That episode replaced the Russia collusion story as the prime manufacturer of “angry citizens” and added an element of inflexibility to the usual rigors of post-journalism. Times coverage of antipolice protests was generally sympathetic to the protesters. Trump was, of course, vilified for “fanning the strife.” But the significant change came in the severe tightening of discourse: the reframing imperative now controlled the presentation of news. Reporting minimized the violence that attended the protests, for example, and sought to keep the two phenomena sharply segregated.

Less than two weeks after Floyd’s death, amid spreading lawlessness in many American cities, the paper posted an opinion piece by Republican senator Tom Cotton in its online op-ed section, titled “Time to Send in the Troops.” It called for “an overwhelming show of force” to pacify troubled urban areas. To many loyal to the New York Times, including staff, allowing Cotton his pitch smacked of treason. Led by young black reporters, the newsroom rebelled.

Once again, the mutiny began on Twitter. Many reporters had large followings; they could appeal directly to readers. In the way of social media, the most excited voices dominated among subscribers. As the base roared, the rebels moved to confront their employer.

The history-reframing mission is now in the hands of a deeply self-righteous group that has trouble discerning the many human stopping places between true and false, good and evil, objective and subjective. According to one poll, a majority of Americans shared the opinion that Cotton expressed in his op-ed. That had no bearing on the discussion. In the letter and the town hall meetings, the rebels wielded the word “truth” as if they owned it. By their lights, Cotton had lied, and the fact that the public approved of his lies was precisely what made his piece dangerous.

Revolutions tend to radicalization. The same is true of social media mobs: they grow ever more extreme until they explode.

But the New York Times is neither of these things—it’s a business, and post-journalism is now its business model. The demand for moral clarity, pressed by those who own the truth, must increasingly resemble a quest for radical conformism; but for nonideological reasons, the demand cannot afford to leave subscriber opinion too far behind. Radicalization must balance with the bottom line.

The final paradox of post-journalism is that the generation most likely to share the moralistic attitude of the newsroom rebels is the least likely to read a newspaper. Andrey Mir, who first defined the concept, sees post-journalism as a desperate gamble, doomed in the end by demographics. For newspapers and their multiple art forms developed over a 400-year history, Mir writes, the collision with the digital tsunami was never going to be a challenge to surmount but rather “an extinction-level event.”

 

 

 

Government of the elite, by the elite and for the elite.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Along with canceling Lincoln’s name on schools (San Fran), the left is turning his words upside down.

As Frieda Vizel explains at the Tablet, the threat in our time is the enslaving of ordinary citizens by imposing a political orthodoxy favored by some elite people and wannabes.  Her article is Conformity to the Good Is Not Good.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

These days, stringent orthodoxies seem to be the only thing on tap

These days, sadly, stringent orthodoxies seem to be the only thing on tap. For some, the dogma requires blind faith in partisan politics, even as our elected officials stoop ever lower in their conduct. For some, the dogma calls for believing our intellectual betters know best, even as their decisions—to continue and champion lockdowns as the best way to fight COVID-19, for example, even as studies show that lockdowns don’t work—run contrary to observable reality and create an endless stream of problems. Question these dogmas, question the fiery loyalty to the tribe of like-minded believers, and you meet an opposition just as vicious and close-minded as anything I’d experienced when I informed my former friends and neighbors that I was leaving the fold.

To an extent, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Most people are more or less conformists. That’s how we organize as communities, as an interconnected social species. As blogger and entrepreneur Paul Graham has noted, for this interconnectedness to work, human beings must largely not only obey rules but, frequently, enforce them when they see others deviating from the norm; only a small minority swim upstream, and those could as easily end up compromising the collective as leading it to new great heights.

If my own experience taught me anything, however, it’s that Graham is only partly right: Personalities matter, but social context may matter more. How conformist we are depends on our place in society, and how much we stand to lose or gain by conforming. Oftentimes, we don’t as much conform as stay away from the can of worms that will be too much trouble if opened. As I learned all too well in my former life, in a system like that, where people are afraid to speak because they don’t want to face the consequence, it’s the bullies that thrive.

When the most cherished value is adherence to an agreed-upon, not-to-be-questioned set of beliefs, when you walk around feeling—as most Americans currently feel—that you’re not free to speak your mind, you can expect little but stasis, or, worst, a descent into a stifling social order of repression and coercion. I’ve seen this happen in my own community. Dear reader, we do not want this to be the case in America.

I get, of course, that most people who conform to a system, even one they feel is needlessly harsh about demanding obedience, do so because they believe they’re doing something good. Sure, you may think, a bunch of people on my side, in my tribe, are much too zealous, but they mean well so I’m just going to go ahead and play for the team and not worry too much about what I can or can’t say in public. Maybe I believe that the right is too hospitable to radical groups that recycle dangerous old racial theories, but I’m conservative and don’t want to give liberals the satisfaction. Maybe I think that political correctness has gone way too far, but I’m a liberal and don’t want to say anything that would give conservatives pleasure. That sort of self-censorship is precisely how communities grow more and more airless.

After I left my community, and after the psychological wounds of seeing basically everyone I ever knew and loved turn on me healed sufficiently, one thing that gave me great strength and comfort was knowing that no matter how hurt I still felt, I was at least free to think, to speak my mind, to make decisions based on my own judgments and ideas rather than follow the herd. This, to me, is what America is very much about, and I’ve come to know it enough to realize that this freedom is neither free nor easy. It depends on our collective commitment to standing up to any and all attempts to require groupthink and conformity at all costs. Now, then, is the time for all those well-meaning people who told me I was courageous for leaving a fundamentalist sect to in turn be brave and leave their own narrow-minded silos. It’s time for us all to be brave.

WordPress Censorship?

A strange thing happened this morning.  I wanted to improve some wording in a post from last night, and the edit function came up in WordPress block editor.  To my surprise, some of the text and image blocks were no longer visible, covered with a warning label:  “This block contains unexpected or invalid content.” Canceled text started with a reference to the last US election and a video image of Biden signing executive orders.

If I open the post in classical editor, the text is available as I wrote it.  And the post still appears without censorship:  See: Climate Science Victim of Fake News

Footnote:  As suggested in comment below, here is a screenshot:

Hitting the “Attempt Block Recovery” button creates a blank block.

The Forces that Flatten Us

Alana Newhouse writes insightfully about the state of American society in her Tablet article Everything Is Broken  And how to fix it.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and images.

For seven decades, the country’s intellectual and cultural life was produced and protected by a set of institutions—universities, newspapers, magazines, record companies, professional associations, cultural venues, publishing houses, Hollywood studios, think tanks, etc. Collectively, these institutions reflected a diversity of experiences and then stamped them all as “American”—conjuring coherence out of the chaos of a big and unwieldy country. This wasn’t a set of factories pumping out identical widgets, but rather a broad and messy jazz band of disparate elements that together produced something legible, clear, and at times even beautiful when each did their part.

But, beginning in the 1970s, the economic ground underneath this landscape began to come apart. Michael Lind explains this better than anyone else:

The strategy of American business, encouraged by neoliberal Democrats and libertarian conservative Republicans alike, has been to lower labor costs in the United States, not by substituting labor-saving technology for workers, but by schemes of labor arbitrage: Offshoring jobs when possible to poorly paid workers in other countries and substituting unskilled immigrants willing to work for low wages in some sectors, like meatpacking and construction and farm labor. American business has also driven down wages by smashing unions in the private sector, which now have fewer members—a little more than 6% of the private sector workforce—than they did under Herbert Hoover.

This was the tinder. The tech revolution was the match—one-upping the ’70s economy by demanding more efficiency and more speed and more boundarylessness, and demanding it everywhere. They introduced not only a host of inhuman wage-suppressing tactics, like replacing full-time employees with benefits with gig workers with lower wages and no benefits, but also a whole new aesthetic that has come to dominate every aspect of our lives—

a set of principles that collectively might be thought of as flatness.

Flatness is the reason the three jobs with the most projected growth in your country all earn less than $27,000 a year, and it is also the reason that all the secondary institutions that once gave structure and meaning to hundreds of millions of American lives—jobs and unions but also local newspapers, churches, Rotary Clubs, main streets—have been decimated. And flatness is the mechanism by which, over the past decade and with increasing velocity over the last three years, a single ideologically driven cohort captured the entire interlocking infrastructure of American cultural and intellectual life. It is how the Long March went from a punchline to reality, as one institution after another fell and then entire sectors, like journalism, succumbed to control by narrow bands of sneering elitists who arrogated to themselves the license to judge and control the lives of their perceived inferiors.

Flatness broke everything.

Today’s revolution has been defined by a set of very specific values:

  • boundarylessness; speed; universal accessibility;
  • an allergy to hierarchy, so much so that the weighting or preferring of some voices or products over others is seen as illegitimate;
  • seeing one’s own words and face reflected back as part of a larger current;
  • a commitment to gratification at the push of a button;
  • equality of access to commodified experiences as the right of every human being on Earth;
  • the idea that all choices can and should be made instantaneously, and that,
  • the choices made by the majority in a given moment, on a given platform represent a larger democratic choice, which is therefore both true and good—until the next moment, on the next platform.

Here’s a description of the aesthetics of Silicon Valley (emphasis added):

It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live/work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless, a value that Silicon Valley prizes and cultural influencers take advantage of. Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started.

“You might not even realize you’re not where you started.” The machines trained us to accept, even chase, this high. Once we accepted it, we turned from willful individuals into parts of a mass that could move, or be moved, anywhere. Once people accepted the idea of an app, you could get them to pay for dozens of them—if not more. You could get people to send thousands of dollars to strangers in other countries to stay in homes they’d never seen in cities they’d never visited. You could train them to order in food—most of their food, even all of their food—from restaurants that they’d never been to, based on recommendations from people they’d never met. You could get them to understand their social world not as consisting of people whose families and faces one knew, which was literally the definition of social life for hundreds of thousands of years, but rather as composed of people who belonged to categories—“also followed by,” “friends in common,” “BIPOC”—that didn’t even exist 15 years ago. You could create a culture in which it was normal to have sex with someone whose two-dimensional picture you saw on a phone, once.

You could, seemingly overnight, transform people’s views about anything—even everything.

The Obama administration could swiftly overturn the decision-making space in which Capitol Hill staff and newspaper reporters functioned so that Iran, a country that had killed thousands of Americans and consistently announces itself to be America’s greatest enemy, is now to be seen as inherently as trustworthy and desirable an ally as France or Germany. Flatness, frictionlessness.

The biological difference between the sexes, which had been a foundational assumption of medicine as well as of the feminist movement, was almost instantaneously replaced not only by the idea that there are numerous genders but that reference in medicine, law or popular culture to the existence of a gender binary is actually bigoted and abusive. Flatness.

Facebook’s longtime motto was, famously, “Move fast and break shit,” which is exactly what Silicon Valley enabled others to do.

The internet tycoons used the ideology of flatness to hoover up the value from local businesses, national retailers, the whole newspaper industry, etc.—and no one seemed to care. This heist—by which a small group of people, using the wiring of flatness, could transfer to themselves enormous assets without any political, legal or social pushback—enabled progressive activists and their oligarchic funders to pull off a heist of their own, using the same wiring. They seized on the fact that the entire world was already adapting to a life of practical flatness in order to push their ideology of political flatness

what they call social justice, but which has historically meant the transfer of enormous amounts of power and wealth to a select few.

9d5962361f0cdc9f6ecbf27c31107c16-admiration-the-hand

Because this cohort insists on sameness and purity, they have turned the once-independent parts of the American cultural complex into a mutually validating pipeline for conformists with approved viewpoints—who then credential, promote and marry each other. A young Ivy League student gets A’s by parroting intersectional gospel, which in turn means that he is recommended by his professors for an entry-level job at a Washington think tank or publication that is also devoted to these ideas. His ability to widely promote those viewpoints on social media is likely to attract the approval of his next possible boss or the reader of his graduate school application or future mates. His success in clearing those bars will in turn open future opportunities for love and employment. Doing the opposite has an inverse effect, which is nearly impossible to avoid given how tightly this system is now woven. A person who is determined to forgo such worldly enticements—because they are especially smart, or rich, or stubborn—will see only examples of even more talented and accomplished people who have seen their careers crushed and reputations destroyed for daring to stick a toe over the ever multiplying maze of red lines.

So, instead of reflecting the diversity of a large country, these institutions have now been repurposed as instruments to instill and enforce the narrow and rigid agenda of one cohort of people, forbidding exploration or deviation—a regime that has ironically left homeless many, if not most, of the country’s best thinkers and creators. Anyone actually concerned with solving deep-rooted social and economic problems, or God forbid with creating something unique or beautiful—a process that is inevitably messy and often involves exploring heresies and making mistakes—will hit a wall. If they are young and remotely ambitious they will simply snuff out that part of themselves early on, strangling the voice that they know will get them in trouble before they’ve ever had the chance to really hear it sing.

He Zhi Hua, Protestor Crushed To Death By Steamroller In Chinese Government Relocation Drive

As with Communists and modernism, there was nothing inevitable about the match. Most consumers don’t know that by using internet-based (or -generated) platforms—by buying from Amazon, by staying in an Airbnb, by ordering on Grubhub, by friending people on Facebook—that they are subscribing to a life of flatness, one that can lead directly into certain politics. But they are. Seduced by convenience, we end up paying for the flattening of our own lives. It is not an accident that progressive ideas spread faster on the internet.

The internet is a car that runs on flatness; progressive politics—unlike either conservatism or liberalism—are flatness.

I’m not looking to rewind the clock back to a time before we all had email and cellphones. What I want is to be inspired by the last generation that made a new life-world—the postwar American abstract expressionist painters, jazz musicians, and writers and poets who created an alternate American modernism that directly challenged the ascendant Communist modernism: a blend of forms and techniques with an emphasis not on the facelessness of mass production, but on individual creativity and excellence.

Like them, our aim should be to take the central, unavoidable and potentially beneficent parts of the Flatness Aesthetic (including speed, accessibility; portability) while discarding the poisonous parts (frictionlessness; surveilled conformism; the allergy to excellence). We should seek out friction and thorniness, hunt for complexity and delight in unpredictability. Our lives should be marked not by “comps” and metrics and filters and proofs of concept and virality but by tight circles and improvisation and adventure and lots and lots of creative waste.

And not just to save ourselves, but to save each other. The vast majority of Americans are not ideologues. They are people who wish to live in a free country and get along with their neighbors while engaging in profitable work, getting married, raising families, being entertained, and fulfilling their American right to adventure and self-invention. They are also the consumer base for movies, TV, books, and other cultural products. Every time Americans are given the option to ratify progressive dictates through their consumer choices, they vote in the opposite direction. When HBO removed Gone with the Wind from its on-demand library last year, it became the #1 bestselling movie on Amazon. Meanwhile, endless numbers of Hollywood right-think movies and supposed literary masterworks about oppression are dismal failures for studios and publishing houses that would rather sink into debt than face a social-justice firing squad on Twitter.

This disconnect between culturally mandated politics and the actual demonstrated preferences of most Americans has created an enormous reserve of unmet needs—and a generational opportunity.  Build new things! Create great art! Understand and accept that sensory information is the brain’s food, and that Silicon Valley is systematically starving us of it. Avoid going entirely tree-blind. Make a friend and don’t talk politics with them. Do things that generate love and attention from three people you actually know instead of hundreds you don’t. Abandon the blighted Ivy League, please, I beg of you. Start a publishing house that puts out books that anger, surprise and delight people and which make them want to read. Be brave enough to make film and TV that appeals to actual audiences and not 14 people on Twitter. Establish a newspaper, one people can see themselves in and hold in their hands. Go back to a house of worship—every week. Give up on our current institutions; they already gave up on us.

California: World Leading Climate Hypocrite Updated Dec. 23, 2020

Update following below Dec. 23, 2020 Has Progressive Californication Peaked?

California’s Climate Extremism
Joel Kotkin reports from the Golden State. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

The pursuit of environmental purity in the Golden State does nothing to reverse global warming—but it’s costing the poor and middle class dearly.

Environmental extremism increasingly dominates California. The state is making a concerted attack on energy companies in the courts; a bill is pending in the legislature to fine waiters $1,000—or jail them—if they offer people plastic straws; and UCLA issued a report describing pets as a climate threat. The state has taken upon itself the mission of limiting the flatulence of cows and other farm animals. As the self-described capital of the anti-Trump resistance, California presents itself as the herald of a green, more socially and racially just society. That view has been utterly devastated by a new report from Chapman University, in which coauthors David Friedman and Jennifer Hernandez demonstrate that California’s draconian anti-climate-change regime has exacerbated economic, geographic, and racial inequality. And to make things worse, California’s efforts to save the planet have actually done little more than divert greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG) to other states and countries.

Jerry Brown’s return to Sacramento in 2011 brought back to power one of the first American politicians to embrace the “limits of growth.” Brown has long worried about resource depletion (including such debunked notions as “peak oil”), taken a Malthusian approach to population growth, and opposed middle-class suburban development. Like many climate-change activists, he has limitless confidence in the possibility for engineering a green socially just society through “the coercive power of the state,” but little faith that humans can find ways to address the challenge of climate change. If Brown’s “era of limits” message in the 1970s failed to catch on with the state’s voters, who promptly elected two Republican governors in his wake, he has found in climate change a more effective rallying cry, albeit one that often teeters at the edge of hysteria. Few politicians can outdo Brown for alarmism; recently, he predicted that climate change will cause 3 to 4 billion deaths, leading eventually to human extinction. To save the planet, he openly endorses a campaign to brainwash the masses.

The result: relentless ratcheting-up of climate-change policies. In 2016, the state committed to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. In response, the California Air Resource Board (CARB), tasked with making the rules required to achieve the state’s legislated goals, took the opportunity to set policies for an (unlegislated) target of an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.

Brown and his supporters often tout their policies as in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, note Friedman and Hernandez, but California’s reductions under the agreement require it to make cutbacks double those pledged by Germany and other stalwart climate-committed countries, many of which have actually increased their emissions in recent years, despite their Paris pledges.

Governor Brown has preened in Paris, at the Vatican, in China, in newspapers, and on national television. But few have considered how his policies have worked out in practice. California is unlikely to achieve even its modest 2020 goals; nor is it cutting emissions faster than other states lacking such dramatic legislative mandates. Since 2007, when the Golden State’s “landmark” global-warming legislation was passed, California has accounted for barely 5 percent of the nation’s GHG reductions. The combined total reductions achieved over the past decade by Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Indiana are about 5 times greater than California’s. Even Texas, that bogeyman of fossil-fuel excess, has been reducing its per-capita emissions more rapidly.

In fact, virtually nothing that California does will have an impact on global climate. California per-capita emissions have always been relatively low, due to the mild climate along the coast, which reduces the need for much energy consumption on heating and cooling. In 2010, the state accounted for less than 1 percent of global GHG emissions; the disproportionately large reductions sought by state activists and bureaucrats would have no discernible effect on global emissions under the Paris Agreement. “If California ceased to exist in 2030,” Friedman and Hernandez note, “global GHG emissions would be still be 99.54 percent of the Paris Agreement total.”

Many of California’s “green” policies may make matters worse. California, for example, does not encourage biomass energy use, though the state’s vast forested areas—some 33 million acres— could provide renewable energy and reduce the excessive emissions from wildfires caused by years of forest mismanagement. Similarly, California greens have been adamant in shutting down nuclear power plants, which continue to reduce emissions in France, and they refuse to count hydro-electricity as renewable energy. As a result, California now imports roughly one-third of its electricity from other states, the highest percentage of any state, up from 25 percent in 2010. This is part of what Hernandez and Friedman show to be California’s increasing propensity to export energy production and GHG emissions, while maintaining the fiction that the state has reduced its total carbon output.

Overall, California tends to send its “dirty work”—whether for making goods or in the form of fossil fuels—elsewhere. Unwanted middle- and working-class people, driven out by the high cost of California’s green policies, leave, taking their carbon footprints to other places, many of which have much higher per-capita emission rates. Net migration to other, less temperate states and countries has been large enough to offset the annual emissions cuts within the state. Similarly, the state’s regulatory policies make it difficult for industrial firms to expand or even to remain in California. Green-signaling firms like Apple produce most of their tangible products abroad, mainly in high-GHG emitting China, while other companies, like Facebook and Google, tend to place energy-intensive data centers in other, higher GHG emission states. The study estimates that GHG emissions just from California’s international imports in 2015, and not even counting imports from the rest of the U.S., amounted to about 35 percent of the state’s total emissions.

California’s green regulators predict that the implementation of ever-stricter rules related to climate will have a “small” impact on the economy. They point to strong economic and job growth in recent years as evidence that strict regulations are no barrier to prosperity. Though the state’s economic growth is slowing, and now approaches the national average, a superficial look at aggregate performance makes a seemingly plausible case for even the most draconian legislation. California, as the headquarters for three of the nation’s five largest companies by market capitalization—Alphabet, Apple, and Facebook— has enjoyed healthy GDP growth since 2010. But in past recoveries, the state’s job and income growth was widely distributed by region and economic class; since 2007, growth has been uniquely concentrated in one region—the San Francisco Bay Area, where employment has grown by nearly 17 percent, almost three times that of the rest of the state, with growth rates tumbling compared with past decades.

Some of these inequities are tied directly to policies associated with climate change. High electricity prices, and the war on carbon emissions generally, have undermined the state’s blue-collar sectors, traditionally concentrated in Los Angeles and the interior counties. These sectors have all lost jobs since 2007. Manufacturing employment, highly sensitive to energy-related and other regulations, has declined by 160,000 jobs since 2007. California has benefited far less from the national industrial resurgence, particularly this past year. Manufacturing jobs—along with those in construction and logistics, also hurt by high energy prices—have long been key to upward mobility for non-college-educated Californians.

As climate-change policies have become more stringent, California has witnessed an unprecedented level of bifurcation between a growing cadre of high-income earners and a vast, rapidly expanding poor population. Meantime, the state’s percentage of middle-income earners— people making between $75,000 and $125,000—has fallen well below the national average. This decline of the middle class even occurs in the Bay Area, notes a recent report from the California Budget and Policy Center, where in 1989 the middle class accounted for 56 percent of all households in Silicon Valley, but by 2013, only 45.7 percent. Lower-income residents accounted for 30.3 percent of Silicon Valley’s households in 1989, and that number grew to 34.8 percent in 2013.

Perhaps the most egregious impact on middle and working-class residents can be seen in housing, where environmental regulations, often tied directly to climate policies, have discouraged construction, particularly in the suburbs and exurbs. The state’s determination to undo the primarily suburban, single-family development model in order to “save the planet” has succeeded both in raising prices well beyond national norms and creating a shortfall of some 3 million homes.

As shown in a recent UC Berkeley study, even if fully realized, the state’s proposals to force denser housing would only reach about 1 percent of its 2030 emissions goals. Brown and his acolytes ignore the often-unpredictable consequences of their actions, insisting that density will reduce carbon emissions while improving affordability and boosting transit use. Yet, as Los Angeles has densified under its last two mayors, transit ridership has continued to drop, in part, notes a another UC Berkeley report, because incentives for real-estate speculation have driven the area’s predominantly poor transit riders further from trains and buses, forcing many to purchase cars.

Undaunted, California plans to impose even stricter regulations, including the mandatory installation of solar panels on new houses, which could raise prices by roughly $20,000 per home. This is only the latest in a series of actions that undermines the aspirations of people who still seek “the California dream;” since 2007, California homeownership rates have dropped far more than the national average. By 2016, the overall homeownership rate in the state was just under 54 percent, compared with 64 percent in the rest of the country.

The groups most affected by these policies, ironically, are those on whom the ruling progressives rely for electoral majorities. Millennials have seen a more rapid decline in homeownership rates compared with their cohort elsewhere. But the biggest declines have been among historically disadvantaged minorities—Latinos and African-Americans. Latino homeownership rates in California are well below the national average. In 2016, only 31 percent of African-Americans in the Bay Area owned homes, well below the already low rate of 41 percent black homeownership in the rest of nation. Worse yet, the state takes no account of the impact of these policies on poorer Californians. Overall poverty rates in California declined in the decade before 2007, but the state’s poverty numbers have risen during the current boom. Today, 8 million Californians live in poverty, including 2 million children, by far the most of any state. The state’s largest city, Los Angeles, is also now by some measurements America’s poorest big city.

To allay concerns about housing affordability, the state has allocated about $300 million from its cap-and-trade funds for housing, a meager amount given that the cost of building affordable housing in urban areas can exceed $700,000 per unit. These benefits are dwarfed by those that wealthy Californians enjoy for the purchase of electric cars and home solar: Tesla car buyers with average incomes of $320,000 per year got more than $300 million in federal and state subsidies by early 2015 alone. By contrast, in early 2018, state electricity prices were 58 percent higher, and gasoline over 90 cents per gallon higher, than the national average, disproportionately hurting ethnic minorities, the working class, and the poor. Based on cost-of-living estimation tools from the Census Bureau, 28 percent of African-Americans in the state live in poverty, compared with 22 percent nationally. Fully one-third of Latinos, now the state’s largest ethnic group, live in poverty, compared with 21 percent outside the state.

In a normal political environment, such disparities would spark debate, not only among conservatives, but also traditional Democrats. Some, like failed independent candidate and longtime environmentalist Michael Shellenberger, have expressed the view that California’s policies have made it not “the most progressive state” but “the most racist one.” Recently, some 200 veteran civil rights leaders sued CARB, on the basis that state policies are skewed against the poor and minorities. So far, their voices have been largely ignored. The state’s prospective next governor, Gavin Newsom, seems eager to embrace and expand Brown’s policies, and few in the legislature seem likely to challenge them. The Republicans, for now, look incapable of mounting a challenge.

This leaves California on a perilous path toward greater class and racial divides, increasing poverty, and ever-more strenuous regulation. Other ways to reduce greenhouse gases—such as planting trees, more efficient transportation, and making suburbs more sustainable—should be on the table. The Hernandez-Friedman report could be a first step toward addressing these issues, but however it happens, a return to rationality is needed in the Golden State.

Joel Kotkin serves as Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (COU).

Update Dec. 23, 2020 Has Progressive Californication Peaked?

Joel Kotkin has updated the California story as 2020 ends in his article Peak Progressive? at the American Mind. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

With adjustment for cost of living, California now has the highest overall poverty rate in the United States according to the Census Bureau. Los Angeles, by far the state’s largest metropolitan area, has among the highest poverty rates for the largest U.S. metros. In parts of Los Angeles, the growing homeless encampments have spawned medieval diseases such as typhus. There are even indications of a comeback for bubonic plague, the signature scourge of the Middle Ages.

Hispanics and African Americans, who constitute 45% of the state’s population, do far worse here than elsewhere. Based on cost-of-living estimation tools from the Census Bureau, 28% of African Americans in the state live in poverty, compared with 22% nationally. Fully one third of Hispanics, the state’s largest ethnic group, are below the poverty line, compared with 21% outside the state. Over two thirds of noncitizen Latinos, including the undocumented, live at or below the poverty line.

The pandemic has widened this divide. The state’s unemployment rates now surpass the national average, making them worse even than in New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. L.A. County has lost over 1 million jobs to the pandemic and suffers an unemployment rate higher than any of the major California urban counties. Today in Los Angeles, violent crime is spiking, and less than half of residents now hold jobs. Since the pandemic, the state’s largest metro, Los Angeles–Orange County, has suffered the second most job losses in the U.S. Two others, the Bay Area and the Inland Empire, rank in the top ten.

Now the state seems poised to lose much of its tech economy, which has been the one force keeping it afloat.

Yet it is ever more clear to ever more Californians that our state is becoming exactly the vast gated community Newsom warns about. As Ali Modarres showed in “The Demographic Transformation of California” (2003), the “shared prosperity” of the Pat Brown years were based on a broad-based economy spanning the gamut from agriculture and oil to aerospace and finance, software, and basic manufacturing. In contrast, the Newsom progressive model is built largely around one industry—high tech—which provides increasingly little opportunity for most Californians, and now shows disturbing signs of moving elsewhere.

Current progressive policies are chasing key companies out of the state—including, just within the last week, tech giants Tesla, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, and Oracle, all of which are heading to Texas. But the real problem lies in the state’s fading appeal to outsiders. It is losing domestic migrants and, increasingly, losing appeal to immigrants as well. California retains many of its great assets—a huge concentration of technical talent, a robust grassroots economy, unmatched physical beauty, and a remarkably pleasant climate—but these are being increasingly squandered. The question now is whether Californians will challenge the status quo.

More Evidence of California Climate Fumbles:

How Climatism Destroyed California

Climate activists versus affordable housing

California Cop Out

California’s Year: Veering Left from Left Lane

 

 

Science Says: Media Covid Coverage Driving US Crazy

Two recent analytical studies together lead to the conclusion in the title of this post.  One is a working paper Why is All Covid 19 News Bad News? published at NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research).  The other is an article at Vox Anxiety and depression are following a remarkably similar curve to Covid-19 cases.  Excerpts are in italics with my bolds.

Malevolent Media Covid Coverage

Summary

We analyze the tone of COVID-19 related English-language news articles written since January 1, 2020. Ninety one percent of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus fifty four percent for non-U.S. major sources and sixty five percent for scientific journals. The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials. Media negativity is unresponsive to changing trends in new COVID-19 cases or the political leanings of the audience. U.S. major media readers strongly prefer negative stories about COVID-19, and negative stories in general. Stories of increasing COVID-19 cases outnumber stories of decreasing cases by a factor of 5.5 even during periods when new cases are declining. Among U.S. major media outlets, stories discussing President Donald Trump and hydroxychloroquine are more numerous than all stories combined that cover companies and individual researchers working on COVID-19 vaccines.

Discussion

Notes: Negativity is estimated using supervised machine learning on article phrases coupled with a training data set. Articles are manually downloaded from LexisNexis for the period January 1st, 2020 to July 31st, 2020. The red line shows the weekly average of daily confirmed new COVID-19 cases and is accessed from the New York Times website.

Figure 1 plots the time trend in media negativity for major media outlets in the U.S. (green line) and outside the U.S. (blue line) using the scale on the left. The most striking fact is that 91 percent of the U.S. stories are classified as negative whereas 54 percent of the non-U.S. stories are classified as negative. Figure 1 uses our estimated probability that an article is negative. We obtain similar results using the Hu-Liu dictionary and the fraction of words in the article that are negative.

Notes: Negativity is estimated as the fraction of negative words in the article and is standardized. Dark blue bars are for COVID related articles and light blue bars are for non-COVID related articles. The raw share of negative words is .043 with a standard deviation of .021. Negative words are defined by the Hu-Liu (1997) dictionary. Articles and transcripts are manually downloaded from LexisNexis for the period January 1st, 2020 to July 31st, 2020 and websites for Science, JAMA, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and Nature. The New York Times website is used for the list and text of the most popular articles.

US Mental Health Linked to Covid Case Reporting

From Vox article linked above:

It is well documented that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a serious toll on emotional well-being. Rates of depression and anxiety in June were three to four times higher than at the corresponding point in 2019, according to the CDC, and deteriorating mental health outcomes have been similarly observed in nations across the world, among them the UK, India, and China. Rates of suicidal ideation, substance abuse, and alcohol consumption are rising steadily.

But the connection is even stronger than you might think in the US: As the number of new cases of the virus fluctuates week to week, our mental health moves in lockstep.

Data available from the Mental Health Household Pulse Survey, run by the CDC, offers a week-by-week estimate of the fraction of Americans who experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression between April 23 and July 21. Comparing this data to the weekly US coronavirus cases over the same time interval reveals an unmistakable trend: The incidence of depressive or anxious symptoms among Americans almost exactly mirrors the trajectory of the US coronavirus curve.

With an r2 value (a standard metric of correlation strength) of 0.92 between new Covid-19 cases and the incidence of anxious or depressive symptoms, the correlation between them is very, very strong.

It is always possible that any correlation could be coincidental rather than causal, or that the link could be more complicated than it seems. Indeed, June and July marked a period of increasing viral spread; one might speculate that, as the pandemic stretched on, public mental health could have correspondingly worsened simply as a function of time or some other factor.

Yet data from the second phase of the Household Pulse Survey, from August through October, showed mental health continued to consistently follow fluctuations in the Covid-19 curve. After the scary viral spike in July, the number of weekly cases declined from roughly 450,000 per week at the end of July to roughly 250,000 by the end of August. And along with this period of slower viral spread, mental health outcomes markedly improved as well, reinforcing the relationship between the two.

Then again, as cases increased during September and October, mental health outcomes correspondingly worsened.

Overall, the pandemic has raised America’s baseline levels of anxiety and depression: Even at its lowest point this summer (early May), the rate of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression hovered around 34 percent, roughly three times higher than the average of 11 percent reported in a parallel study between January and June 2019.

Fluctuations above this already-high baseline could plausibly be caused, at least in part, by the severity of the pandemic at a given point in time. For example, elevated rates of viral spread directly increase the likelihood that we or someone we know will become exposed and undergo a mentally straining period of quarantining waiting for symptoms — or self-isolation while battling the new illness itself. The state of the pandemic also often determines things like freedom of mobility through lockdown measures or their absence.

Historically, imposed quarantine has been shown to dramatically affect mental health. Moreover, the perceived trajectory of the pandemic has significant repercussions for the economy and unemployment, both of which have been shown to directly impact mental health.

My Comment: 

Early on everyone wondered: What’s different about this pandemic? Some observed: It’s the first pandemic with 24/7 cable news and rampant social media. Informal surveys show that many people have few or no family, friends or associates who have gotten sick, let alone seriously ill or died from Covid19.  What we do get is a deluge of scary messaging and official warnings and restrictions that are literally driving us crazy.  

Bottom Line:  You’re on your own to keep up your spirits and fend off fears and depression.  Take care of your immune system, especially vitamins C, D and Zinc, and make every day count.