A Modest Propsal

One of our O Society people called Daniele Vanni writes:

“To everyone who may be reading:

This comment refers to the ethics of this publisher website (O Society), not to the specific article v below v. To understand the comment better, please check the original article:

Scientists: ‘Look, One-Third Of The Human Race Has To Die For Civilization To Be Sustainable, So How Do We Want To Do This?’

^ This ^ is scary. Not the article, but the fact this site has actual scientists writing as authors and editors and nobody, NOBODY, gives a single damn about the original news being a satirical article from The Onion, and about the fact it is posted here AS IF IT WAS A REAL NEWS STORY.”

Here is our reply:

Thank you for your considered comments, Daniele Vanni. You have put sincere thought into your writing. Our gratitude. This gives us a chance to clear up any misunderstanding our readers may have. Excellent!

Of course we are not Russian bots. To regurgitate this charge is a modern “liberal corporate Democrat” propaganda-induced response, no?

Of course this article is an intentionally-published satire along the classical literary lines of Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal. Here’s his pamphlet circa 1729, in which he suggests the correct method of population control is eating our children. As in Irish potato cannibalism!


A Modest Propsal (PDF)

The fact some people might take it seriously shows how decayed and corrupt our society is in the first place. It must be a rather advancedly-decadent society for its citizens to take murder seriously enough as a alternative to our problems to be offended by the proposal.

On the other hand, Ecofascism is a real thing.

Ecofascism: Coronavirus Proves Thanos Did Nothing Wrong

Ecofascism is coming precisely because we did not fix the climate crisis when we had a chance to do so 50 years ago.

The Limits to Growth

We do not endorse ecofascism or comic book plots here at O Society – duh!


Here is the rest of Danile Vanni’s comment:

by Daniele Vanni edited by O Society May 18, 2020

So, You guys might be a bot. Or a bunch of bots. Or a human that paid for a bunch of bot to help out with the editing. Whatever. I wanna talk to READERS who end up here because they might be genuinely looking for information and commentary on the Corona pandemic.

Coronavirus Information from the People Who Know

So, Context MATTERS. No real scientist, or actual scientific body of experts, has ever said something like “well, we gotta kill a third of the population just for the world to be sustainable.”

The headline is persuasive because it’s so vague, it can sound like something that can be proven, but also like something that is not verifiable at all. Just like the stuff you hear from palm readers who read your hand.

The Reality-based Community

If this article referred to actual scientists, what could they possibly mean by this “sacrifice of 1/3 to make human lifestyle sustainable” story, SPECIFICALLY?

The Limits to Growth

Do they mean pollution kills a lot of people? Sure, fair enough, but this claim has no logical implication for the Coronavirus lockdowns. No conclusion about policy can be made from this observation.

Think about the point made by the article (read between the lines…):

  • observation A = industrial capitalism kills millions for the sake of efficiency in production & consumption;
  • observation B = we are resorting to lockdowns so that less people die from the Covid infection;
  • conclusion C = we should lift the lockdowns? –> non-sequitur: that way we kill people with the virus AND the pollution.

This thing here sounds very much like a fallacy. Also, as I will try to argue in the next paragraph, the point of the lockdown is not really to “prevent people from dying”, like many erroneously repeat (on both sides of the aisle).

It’s abut preventing people from dying UNTREATED. It’s one of those subtle differences that actually make ALL the difference. And NOBODY is explaining this in public media. Not the mainstream media, not the rebel media, not the fact checkers, not the WHO, not anybody. It’s the argumentative debacle of humanity.

Please don’t take me wrong: I’m not the thought police. I am not asking you to “accept the established authority of science.”

The Baloney Detection Kit: Carl Sagan’s Rules for Bullshit-Busting and Critical Thinking

Quite the opposite: I know perfectly well that you have been brought to this place because you already had way too many experiences where things didn’t really “add up” with science, and often times these weird mismatches were entangled in all sorts of political controversies.

And yes, a very dogmatic scientific education has also played a role in this by casting scientists and experts as embodiments of truth, prophets of factual accuracy (few of them would be willing to admit it, but that’s mostly because they’re paranoid about “losing public trust in truth”, not because they’re mean).

Their only “crime” is, they systematically forget how slow good science is, all the work, the debate, the peer reviews, the replications that any scientific paper HAS to go through before it can be considered “good, robust science”. And sometimes all that work is not enough to prevent bad science from being published and well-meaning people from believing it, no matter what information becomes available later on.

Again, this is because western education spent the last 4 decades tricking itself into believing that science can deliver the answer to all questions here and now. It’s just about gettin’ them data, man!!

Problem is, data don’t tell you anything about what you should do with them. If you haven’t specified what your objective is, then by definition you don’t have a policy. You really don’t. If you take action based on the data because you think “the data suggests we should do X rather than Y because there is more evidence for X than for Y”, you are likely to run into troubles sooner or later.

John Ioannidis made exactly the same mistake in his declarations. But he keeps releasing statements, so I’m becoming more and more inclined to think he just doesn’ t care about policy anymore. It’s just about noise and visibility.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but You Cannot Keep a Herd of Sheep from Going to Slaughter

Seriously, the guy’s name is repeated on the shadiest scam-ad websites I’ve seen recently on the internet, there are youtube channels with BOTS (!!) reposting his interviews thousands of times. Probably some kid having fun with algorithm vulnerability to get easy cash.

How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

It took 8 years before the infamous paper by Andrew Wakefield (which started the whole “vaccines-cause-autism” thing) was eventually retracted. And I perfectly understand why someone might see the Wakefield case more as a confirmation that scientists are up to some shady agenda and should therefore be distrusted.

Teen who vaccinated himself says his anti-vaxx Mom gets her misinformation from Facebook (Echochamber Friday)

It’ s not irrational (they tought you science was “facts”, after all, didn’ t they?), it’ s a natural reaction of distrust: when scientists don’t get it straight, we lose our trust in it because we expect them to be straight the first time, all the time. And that’s simply impossible. Scientists do not like to remember that “truth” and “established facts” are always TIME-DEPENDENT. We trick ourselves into believing that science holds the truth for everything we observe, including stuff we never observed before (like a new pathogen).

It didn’t have to be this way


The problem is not PEOPLE DIE. Society is quite used to people dying. The problem is that USUALLY, PEOPLE DIE *DESPITE* MEDICAL TREATMENT (unavoidable deaths), NOT BECAUSE THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH RESOURCES TO BE TREATED.

Hello From Italy! I’m Here to Predict Your Future…

One may argue that in the Global South, situations where people cannot get treatment and die because of this are everyday routine. But again, this is not an argument, in and of itself. If Global South countries, under “normal” circumstances, had enough resources to provide emergency treatment to almost everyone who needs it (and I know it’s a very heavy “almost” thrown in there) – they would likely go on lockdown too.

Again, we trick ourselves into thinking “facts speak for themselves” (grossly wrong misconception) because we have been unconsciously trained to see policy as expertise, and policy decisions as a matter of costs, benefits, and utility. Turns out, utility is not a very useful notion when it comes to a situations where hospitals are overburdened by inflows of patients with respiratory syndrome. We apply cost-benefit analysis, we ask questions like “how many people will the virus kill that were about to die anyway?” and “how many people will die because of the economic damage?” and soon enough, we start repeating a very carefully prepared slogan: “the cure cannot be worse than the disease”. It sounds good, rational, fair. And spontaneous. Doesn’t it?

Two Truths from the Pandemic No One Wants to Mention

Well, all good slogans sound spontaneous. Otherwise they wouldn’t be good slogans. The liberal left is struggling with its own “brand management” precisely because it doesn’t put any effort in coming up with good slogans, good meaning-making practices of storytelling that people can relate with. They wanna be precise and tell “the facts” straight, because they tend to be a little bit naive about how actual people, including themselves, make up their mind when going about dissonant information. And boy, is there an AWFUL LOT of dissonant information out there.

This is the market-for-lemons of information technology manifesting itself in all its damaging potential. We are having a democratic crisis that needs a collective fix. We need more understanding, more serious discussion, and less blame-gaming.

If you actually got all the way down here with your reading attention, please go watch some recent keynote speeches by people like Jaron Lanier and Danah Boyd (Techies critical of Silicon Valley, Social Media Tycoons and financialized capitalism).

Yes, they’re long. Yes, they sound boring at first. Set the reproduction speed at 1.5x or 2x. Give it a try, or maybe look for the article “Social Epistemology” on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Phylosophy. Or do both. Or do none of the above. But don’t get fixated on fighting a resistance war against the other half of society, which is convinced that they’re doing the exact same thing against your faction. There is no agenda. Just amplified confusion.

Or better, there are at least two agendas, but all this noise is making them blur into the background.

Pssst… If You Haven’t Figured It Out Yet, The Plan Is to Save Capital and Let the People Die



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