Senseless Sensationalism and Erroneous Echo Chambers

CNN advertisement for the 2020 presidential race. [Formatted]

Thanks to CNN and other leading news organizations for doing a damn fine job of making the 2020 presidential election feel like a heavyweight matchup. And not just a heavyweight matchup, but one on which the vast majority of Americans bet their next three rent/mortgage payments.

Also, what in the name of Nicholas Cage’s butthole is wrong with the mainstream polling systems? For months, countless voices in the media have congratulated themselves on their “highly accurate data” and so they were quick to make confident (but in actuality boisterous) claims that Joe Biden would handily defeat Donald Trump. Yet, just the preliminary results of the 2020 election exposed how horribly and embarrassingly wrong they all were—and are.

Oh wait—isn’t this the second consecutive presidential election where something like this has happened? Remember the general narrative back in 2016 and how certain everyone was that Hillary Clinton would win mostly uncontested? There were news reports, professional articles, opinion pieces, political advertisements, oodles of fucking polls, and cartoons like the one below, all of which formed a potent cocktail of assurances that the Democratic Party would be victorious.

Cartoon of a Mortal Kombat character resembling Scorpion or Sub-Zero saying "Finish him" to Hillary Clinton behind the curtain of a debate stage. [Formatted]

Don’t like Trump? Well, if you’re not an idiot then you should have at least an equal amount of malcontent right now for the spoon-fed garbage you have been consuming from your favorite news outlet(s) for the last 6+ months. In fact, now would be an excellent time to begin removing your head from your ass so that you can attempt an objective reassessment of what the hell you were just put through (and of those organizations whom are most responsible for putting you through it).

Confirmation bias icon-external-link-12x12 is a thing, folks—but at such high stakes it only works if you’re not also inept.

Legitimizing the Irresponsible and Weak-Minded

Wouldn’t it be nice if governments were somehow able to pull a report of every moron, imbecile, idiot, and dunce who has been hoarding toilet paper in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak? Leaders could then distribute this information to hospitals, health services providers, and insurance companies to ensure that these people are put at the end of the line for any medical treatment they might need.

This ruse started through social media in Japan when some pranksters were able to convince people that the raw materials for surgical masks and toilet paper are the same, and that almost all of the toilet paper in Japan comes from China icon-external-link-12x12. This misinformation quickly spread from continent to continent which spurred armies of nimrods to stockpile all of the world’s toilet paper reserves. In fact, it happened so fast, that people outside of Japan didn’t even know why they were buying toilet paper: they just had a vague sense that it was somehow important.

Two women wearing surgical masks and carrying multiple giant bags of toilet paper. [Formatted]

First of all, toilet paper isn’t going to do jack shit to protect someone from a virus, and this should be immediately apparent to anyone with a modicum of intelligence. The only thing toilet paper is good for is wiping ass, and for blowing one’s nose when there isn’t a handkerchief icon-external-link-12x12 or kleenex around. If a person can be convinced that toilet paper can protect someone from an viral outbreak, what else is he or she capable of believing? That rubbing a dead fish on one’s face will remove pimples and promote clear skin? That the more USB drives that are plugged in to a computer the faster it goes? That a weekly colonic with celery juice will add years to one’s life?

Secondly, if toilet paper were somehow a secret armor that protected against the coronavirus, why would a person need hundreds upon hundreds of rolls? Pretending for a moment that you are not a complete dolt, are you really that much more important than everyone else? You get to have all of the protection for yourself and other people get to go without? Fact is, you have a selfish, meaningless, half-baked existence, and your pneumonia-riddled dead body should be cremated in a pile of flaming Charmin.

This begs the question: in a time of crisis, why should rational people have to compete for the same resources and aid as irrational people? The former group will be more responsible and considerate, and will promote stability and reason in times of confusion and chaos; the latter group, however, can only react and contribute to the panic and misinformation around them. Yet, even in the world’s most advanced democracies, both camps are treated 100% equally.

This is essentially why I tend not to vote: the input of an informed and well-reasoned individual can be immediately canceled out by an impetuous one. I can spend 15-30 minutes or more per day staying on top of politics, assessing problems objectively, and yet somehow my input has the same validity as someone who signed up to vote at the last minute at a booth in a mall outside of Old Navy. This is completely fucked!

Hopefully in the coming decades, when there is another and possibly more serious outbreak, and when computer systems across industry and government are more thoroughly interconnected, we will be able to tell who all the self-serving fear-minded shitheads are by a fancy database query. Then, as they’re waiting at the back of the line for the treatment they desperately need, they can think really hard about why they don’t matter as much as everyone else.

Over or Under? An Example of Fair-Minded Problem-Solving (and Allegorical Technique)

In the house where I spent my most formative years, we always put the toilet paper roll on the holder in an “over” position: where the sheets of paper would dispense from the top of the roll and not the bottom. Not surprisingly, I held strong convictions that “over” was the only correct way to hang toilet paper.

Toilet paper roll in both configurations: over and under. [Formatted]

When I would visit friends’ homes in my youth, I found that some of them put their toilet paper in the “over” position and others put it in the “under” position. This was confusing to me, because “over” was so obviously right and “under” was so obviously wrong. For my friends’ families who did it this other way, I started to wonder what else might be off about them: hanging their toilet paper the “wrong” way made me suspect other flaws in their character.

As I matured, lived in different houses, and had roommates, I became more tolerant of toilet paper being hung in the “under” orientation. It was still an odd experience, but I came to accept that the preference people have for hanging toilet paper is just one of the many ways we are all unique from one another. Maybe there wasn’t anything wrong with the “under” people after all?

Some time later, I rented a house with an extremely small bathroom, and the toilet paper holder was placed surprisingly close to the toilet. After a few months of being angry at the suboptimal use of space in this bathroom, I had an epiphany: if I oriented the toilet paper in the “under” orientation, the end-sheet would be farther away from me which would create more space between the toilet and would thus be easier to grab! To my astonishment, from that point forward I found myself putting toilet paper on the “wrong” way in my own house!

These days, it doesn’t really matter to me what orientation is being used: I’m comfortable with both. I have found, however, that if the holder is too far away then the “over” method wins, and that if it is too close then the “under” method wins. In both cases, the objective is utilizing the available space as effectively as possible.
(I just checked both of my current bathrooms, neither of which have space issues, and the toilet paper is unsurprisingly in the “over” orientation.) I also would expect that a person’s dominant hand and the side of the toilet the holder is located could be another factor. There are different sized toilets too, which is something I never bothered to notice until recently!

Perhaps in the case of toilet paper roll orientation preferences, subtle practicalities establish lifelong habits. Also, one person’s toilet paper habits can easily transfer to impressionable youth in a shared living space, and when they grow up they will most likely continue to do what is familiar without ever really understanding the reasons why.

Oh… and there is a third option that not very many people know about: spear the toilet paper through the secondary axis and make it as difficult as possible to use. This is particularly effective when somebody gives you a hard time icon-external-link-12x12 for putting the roll on the “wrong” way.

Toilet paper roll speared by the bar of the holder. [Formatted]

Circular Firing Squad

The Joe Rogan Experience #1241 icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 (with neuroscientist/author Sam Harris icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 )

As I was listening to this podcast, I thought to myself, “Wow, these descriptions of our current social climate are highly articulate, accurate and on point.” But the more I nodded in agreement, the more I felt exhausted by the conversation. It then occurred to me that all this fantastic dialogue basically amounted to an overblown conversation about how people are behaving as badly as they ever have, just in new and increasingly nuanced ways.

I began wondering if much of this poor behavior is symptomatic of the need we all have for more time and space to exist as ourselves in this busy and cramped world of ours. If it helps to identify as a furry icon-external-link-12x12 and file an HR complaint with your company because there aren’t litter boxes in the restrooms [!] then more power to you! If a man with a penis (because now this needs to be qualified) can feel better about his life by claiming he is a lesbian [!] and then have his claims legitimized by others [!!], way to go! If throwing somebody else under the bus for a minor social gaffe helps prevent your own character from ever being drawn into question, hell yeah—go for it!

The more things change, the more they stay the same. There is a certain kind of person right now who has more easily adapted to society’s current round of shuffled priorities: this person masks his or her own poor behaviors by going on the offensive and preemptively attacking everyone else for their own mistakes and shortcomings.