If 2021 has taught us anything, it is that there is no limit to the power and scope of fear. It can snuff out hope as fast as a European Commission vice president can impose the precautionary principle on an AstraZeneca vaccine; it can reimpose severe lockdown measures on the emergence of a variant with very mild symptoms; it can move Commission officials to force the European agricultural sector to adopt cultist organic farming practises (or propose the removal of all “toxic” chemicals); it has created a disease called “eco-anxiety” – a torment that teenagers shared at the COP-26 in Glasgow (while world leaders took naps). Fear of viruses, fear of chemicals, fear of imminent catastrophic climate change, fear of evil corporations – things haven’t been this rich for the fear industry since the Cold War (and, admittedly, we behaved incredibly stupidly back then).
Fear is also relative. With grandpa snoozing in his white house, we no longer seem to be afraid of geopolitical tensions. Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian border, Chinese jets threatening Taiwanese outposts; these events don’t even register a pulse, but if an Alaskan coastal town has a warm afternoon, we become panic-stricken. According to Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest black comedy, we aren’t afraid enough. Cue the scary Swedish teenager to growl at us once again.
Fear removes the capacity for people to think rationally and act in their best interests. Fear pushes people into a herd, more easily managed by opportunists posing as solution-providers. Fear creates a Docilian population yearning for someone else to keep them safe and risk-free. After nearly two years of pandemic-driven fear and stifling lockdowns, most people have lost the capacity to think longer term or take care of themselves. And, regrettably, fear allows for opportunists to get away with some horribly intolerable (dare I say: Goebbelian?) solutions: deplatforming, banning, imposing mandates and behavioural change, wilful destruction of economies and restrictions on individual liberties.
Creation out of Chaos
The Risk-Monger did some of his most creative writing in 2021, coining terms like precautionaria (a fatal disease) or organish (when organic food becomes nothing more than a high-priced label) to try to keep the counter-intuitive spirit alive. He laid in heavily on how two of the European Green Deal platforms made Brussels look ridiculous and excessively alarmist. He spoke out at what he called impositionists – activists who have been attempting to impose behavioural change and on how the citizen assembly approach of the Conference on the Future of Europe was merely an activist ploy to legitimise their campaigns. He attacked his own science communications community for encouraging the suppression of free speech and further fuelling the spread of anti-vaxxers. He even published his own opus seeking a positive alternative to the destructive, fear-based distinction between organic and conventional farming.
But what was the point? The Risk-Monger wrote these articles more for himself and barely bothered to organise or meme them to amplify the engagement. Why? Cancel culture evolutions in social media had hermetically sealed ideological communities so only his choir had access to his ideas (and even there, they were getting more cantankerous by the day). The algorithms and content-moderated ban barriers were restricting free speech, tribes were building walls of ignorance, the main media groups were seduced by slick fear campaigns unleashed by PR-savvy activist groups and few had time to read or make the effort to think beyond the narrative imposed upon them. We have created too many barriers to critical thinking.
The Risk-Monger assumed a role of merely curating the downfall of reason in this fear-driven Age of Stupid. 2021 had hit new lows as the media was captured, EU officials abandoned their responsibilities to govern as risk managers and interest groups took over the leadership role via their “citizen assemblies”. Expert advisers were shown the door, journals embraced click-bait alarmism and Gary Ruskin became acting editor-in-chief at Scientific American. From the Risk-Monger’s perpetually locked-down, dusty basement, it all became quite depressing as he threw his arms up in frustration and scaled back his own efforts.
I mean, seriously, what is the point any more? The Risk-Monger presently has two leads to two serious scandals of research abuse but cannot find the energy to complete the exposés. What will it change? After exposing 30 cases of corruption within IARC, after showing how Western leaders have next to no risk management capacity when faced with a pandemic; and as they are relying on the precautionary principle instead, they show no responsibility for the consequences of their cowardly decisions; after showing the devastating consequences as the organic/agroecology lobby is dictating policy in Brussels and Rome; after seeing how he became a victim of the moronic identity politics infection of the science communications community, he can only conclude that there is little hope left for evidence and fact-based policies in this decline into a new Dark Age. In the coming years, the light of reason will only grow dimmer.
Worse, on the personal front, the Risk-Monger has had a challenging year. Battling long COVID and a mild depression, and then in June, after his second COVID-19 vaccine, he was on his back packed in ice for three weeks (thank God for oxycodone). Turns out the vaccine provoked an inflammatory arthritic flare. The immediate response at the hospital was: “Of course not – the vaccine did not cause the flare!” but his rheumatologist, with a sheepish grin, confirmed almost all of her patients with this aggressive form had similar responses. Now in December he is dealing with the risks of a retinal detachment. Having already lost the effective use of four fingers, pieces of the Monger are falling off and he keeps wondering if maybe it is time to just pack it in.
I have decided to slowly pull back from my academic roles (it sickens me to see how my students have suffered from an administration quite content to do nothing more than acquiesce while managing an empty campus). Should I also step back from writing and engaging with a community that is dwindling, bifurcating and belligerent? Algorithms are tightening around media-approved consensus wonks while isolating the counter-intuitive. Twice this year I have had to deal with skittish content moderators who don’t feel that it is their corporation’s responsibility to defend free speech. I don’t do this for money and I didn’t sign on for such nuisances. As the conference scene looks set to remain dormant until perhaps 2023, early retirement seems very attractive to my broken body.
Now I was told to never end a speech or leave an audience in complete despair, so maybe this annus horribilis needs a happy ending. Let me change gears and bring out a deus ex machina.
But then I got a personal message from a follower.
A Flickering Candle
Hey David – did you see what happened at IARC? The Ramazzini cabal has been purged from their monograph programme.
I couldn’t believe my eyes – it was true. Even the Wicked Witch of the West was sent back home to gather dust in a dead-end role in the National Academies. Mind you I am still banned from the IARC Twitter page but after all of those articles, all of that “clear as day” evidence of corruption and lack of scientific integrity, I can’t help but wonder if the message must have finally been driven home – IARC needed to clean itself up. The IARC monograph programme seems to have been side-lined and it looks as if the agency will not have the strength of conviction to push through with their previously planned condemnation of GMOs as carcinogenic. The US tort law machine has lost a valuable tool in their art of deception and many activist scientists can no longer rely on a sure salary supplement as litigation consultants. I weep for their loss.
Then, another message arrives (bless my community, many of them know I don’t have time to keep up with all of the madness going on).
David – did you hear the news? Bayer just won their second straight glyphosate case in the US!
Well, maybe even American jurors can’t be made afraid by baseless claims made by sharks and shadows. Could it be that people are starting to see through that slimy, fraudulent attempt to fleece consumers and destroy sustainable farming? A few more cases like this and I can expect to see that unregulated litigation finance well go dry and several of the nastier Predatorts go belly up (I have a bottle of champagne on ice waiting for the day those dreadful Scientologists at Baum Hedlund get forced back to the strip mall). When the wind changes and the stench emanates, then even useful idiots like Carey Gillam lose their soapboxes (as she quietly left US Right to Know) and can now only get media spots on lunatic anti-vax podcasts.
Hey Mr Monger – it seems like the European Commission has opened a window towards reconsidering regulations on certain new plant breeding techniques (NPBTs).
Now that one may take a little more of a fight since DG Santé in the European Commission still has quite a few precautionistas in the pocket of the environmental-health activist clique. And although it is being offered as a route to lessen the anticipated impact of their destructive Farm2Fork strategy, even a crack in that window may allow for some fresh air to flow into Brussels. And if that 25 year witch-hunt against GMOs can finally be put to rest, there may be hope for farmers as the European Commission could start to flush out the chemophobes and anti-progressives who have hid behind the veil of precaution for far too long.
So maybe fear had reached its zenith in 2021. Maybe my views are no longer so far from the common narrative. Maybe there is place for rational thinking in the West (without us having to give up all of our affluence). Maybe it was not all for nothing. Maybe I had a small role in stopping some of this madness. Maybe I’ll just give it another year and try to kick up a little more dust.
Happy New Year and let’s make 2022 a year to celebrate scientific progress and innovation!