The following are my notes for a presentation I intended to make yesterday at the World Congress for Freedom of Scientific Research Conference in the European Parliament on 12 April 2018. The time was much more limited than expected so I had only delivered a part on the precautionary priniciple (my point being only a sociopath would accept the precautionary illogic). Here is how I had developed that point. Some would call this dark humour … I see too much reality in this “fictional” case study.
I am a senior pathologist at the Social Media Reality Recovery Unit in the St Thomas Centre for Internet Cult Addiction and Re-Rationalization located in Waterloo.
I am here today to present my research on a challenging case study, a patient of mine known as “Natural Nathalie”, female aged 26, who was confined to our institution at the beginning of February after a series of altercations that left her a threat to society and to herself.
Nathalie suffers from Naturopathosis, the overwhelmingly irrational belief that everything natural is good and that nothing man-made should ever be tolerated. She is against the vaccination of children and has often been seen terrorizing vulnerable mothers on social media. She only eats organic food and routinely lectures farmers on their agricultural practices. Nathalie has been arrested on several occasions for destroying biotech research fields and painting anti-trade slogans on office buildings.
Nathalie’s pathology is complicated by “Dogmatic Zealot Complex”, the ingrained conviction that everything she believes is the truth and those who disagree are threats who must be mercilessly isolated and eliminated. This complex is worsened by her messianic tendencies – that it is up to her, and only her, to save the world. It is an unusual form of narcissism as it is disguised as mock benevolence.
Nathalie expresses a religious, cult-like devotion to many of the naturopathic gurus like Vandana Shiva or David Avocado Wolfe but she inherently believes she should be that guru whom others follow. When other patients in the clinic do not give Nathalie the attention she craves, she becomes very difficult.
The patient has expressed strong, violent reactions against authority. Natural Nathalie is not one for dialogue or listening. She accuses our doctors of being pawns of the “pharmaceutical cancer industry” and all scientists of being puppets for Monsanto (which she is convinced controls all governments). She is most comfortable lecturing others about their failings and weaknesses and puts herself up as the model for humanity. While she talks about some mythic voice of the people, she doesn’t believe in democracy if the people go against her interests.
In my sessions with Nathalie, I have found her irrational fear of scientists, industry and technology to be quite challenging to basic humanistic principles. She has somehow convinced herself that all innovations and advancements in humanity since the mid-1800s (the curing of diseases, improved food security and balanced diets, better transportation and energy supplies …) have been a curse on humanity and she gladly welcomes the return to a world without technology, global trade and scientific solutions.
She shares these views on her iPhone.
Nathalie’s superstition against non-natural substances has intrigued many of us at the St Thomas Centre for Cult Addiction and Re-Rationalization. In rejecting all substances of synthetic origin (including soaps and shampoo) she seems at the same time content to ingest large volumes of opiates and cannabinoids which she claims have healing powers. For Nathalie, chemical only means synthetic and she insists only synthetic chemicals are carcinogens.
Her rejection of agronomy and support for organic food from traditional seeds has been classified as a cult religion. She understands that large parts of the world will go hungry when her views on organic farming are imposed but feels that overpopulation is the source of the problem. These are clear sociopathic tendencies. Although Nathalie has no scientific training, the patient is very adept in finding obscure, renegade academics whom she claims are the real scientists.
My work in the Social Media Reality Recovery Unit has been crucial in Nathalie’s treatment. She has exhibited an unhealthy addiction to social media tools and tends to blindly believe every post from those in her circle to be facts. Her knowledge is based on a collection of memes and threads against those whom she has determined to be shills and trolls. We measured her attention span at less than five seconds for any activity, above the average for millennials but still worryingly brief.
She also believes that cats can convey both insight and wisdom.
The Precautionary Illogic
Nathalie insists that everything non-natural should be banned (including all agricultural technologies essential to our food security). She justifies this through what clinicians call the precautionary illogic: that not being right does not matter. For her, not being right is not the same as being wrong. Allow me to demonstrate.
On this beautiful sunny day, I brought my umbrella. Was I right to bring my umbrella? No, I was not right. Was I wrong to bring my umbrella? No, I was not wrong, and I’ll bring it tomorrow even if the forecast is for sun. The precautionary illogic implies that not being right is not the same as being wrong. In banning every man-made substance, Natural Nathalie, hiding under the illogic of this strange precautionary principle, firmly believes that she is never wrong.
Now as a social media pathologist, I believe in the scientific logic, that you are either right or wrong, and if you are not right, then you are wrong. Sadly, not many people have the courage to ever risk being wrong, making Natural Nathalie’s precautionary illogic look quite attractive to the cowardly policy-makers among us.
It has proven to be very difficult to Re-Rationalize Natural Nathalie. She only listens to the zealot dogma of her naturopathic cult tribe. We had hoped that maturity would lead to more responsible decision-making processes, but ignorance and intolerance seems to harden with age among zealots.
Our recommendations are to not encourage Nathalie’s narcissistic tendencies with microphones in places of public discourse, show zero tolerance for her anti-science preaching and remind her regularly that she speaks for only a small minority of self-interested activists (and not for the world).
We also need to remove certain illogical tools in our policy discourse that not only allow humanity to tolerate such naturopathic tendencies but even encourage them to impose their dangerous ideologies on weak political leaders. Without the illogical precautionary principle, dogmatic zealots like Natural Nathalie would not be able to inflict so much damage on society.
Thank you for your attention.